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Dear Johnny: Keep Your Son at Home

March 05, 1986|Dave Distel

This is a Dear John letter--or, more precisely, a Dear Johnny letter.

It goes to a fellow who called himself Johnny R Superstar during his athletic days. That was how he signed autographs, and his autograph was always in demand.

Once again, the signature of Johnny R is in demand. And so is the signature of his son. We'll call him Terry R, but hold the Superstar for possible later appendage.

Johnny R, of course, is Johnny Rodgers, the Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Nebraska. Terry R is son Terry Rodgers, The Times' San Diego County back of the year from Sweetwater High School.

Letter of Intent Day, that celebrated occasion when universities throughout the land proclaim they have had their best recruiting year ever, has come and gone.

Terry Rodgers has neither come nor gone. No one has his signature, or that of his father. Obviously, confusion exists.

Doesn't everyone sign that very first day?

Not Terry R.

Maybe I can help.

Dear Johnny R:

I read a story a couple of weeks ago about The Decision and the dilemma it presents. I am not being facetious when I tell you that I understand.

This business about being a scholarship athlete is just that. A business. And not particularly a good business for the athlete in question.

Youngsters who go to universities on athletic scholarships do not embark upon a path strewn with roses and greenbacks. It does not work that way.

You made a point that an athletic scholarship amounts to a form of slavery. I would suggest this is a bit extreme. After all, none of these kids are forced to accept those scholarships or play these games. They can pump gas or bag groceries or fry hamburgers and save some bucks by spending a couple of years at a junior college. Slavery indicates a lack of choice.

However, I agree with the points you made about the financial restrictions imposed upon scholarship athletes. They are unique in what they are not allowed to do, which is just about anything that would enable them to put together enough money to buy a small pizza.

As I understand it, Terry R is considering Nebraska, Texas and USC. Assuming that Nebraska is the front-runner, and Terry R indicated at one time that he would sign with the Cornhuskers, I called Lincoln to find out what a scholarship was worth.

An assistant coach advised me that it totaled approximately $5,980 annually. This breaks down into room and board, books, fees and 30 units at an out-of-state charge of $119 each.

This sounds nice, but you questioned some other expenses which would relate to attending a university in Lincoln, Neb. Terry R would undoubtedly need some warmer clothes, since parkas and galoshes are not standard in San Diego closets. There would also be the matter of transportation to and from Lincoln.

Who's going to pay? You and I know. You are.

The National Collegiate Athletic Assn. does not allow universities to subsidize travel to and from campus. Period. Terry R--meaning you--would have to find his own way to Lincoln.

Naturally, you will also be responsible for keeping him warm once he gets there.

That is the way the rules read. Nebraska can provide shoulder pads and hip pads and cleats and helmet and pants and jerseys and even a wool-lined cape for cold Saturday afternoons on the sideline. But that is it.

The thermal underwear is on you if it's going to be on Terry R.

You also wondered about dates.

Hah. Terry R better find some young ladies with money. He won't have any. That is the way it will be at Nebraska, Texas, USC or any place else, at least any place following the letter of the NCAA regulations.

You see, Terry R will never see a penny of that $5,980 in annual scholarship value. It is all a trade-out for his services. He gets that value in classes, books, a dormitory room and meals in the cafeteria.

What if he wants to go to a movie or indulge in a pizza?

He gets a job? You know about that too, don't you? He cannot hold a job, not during the academic year. It is against NCAA rules for a scholarship athlete to hold a job except during vacations, and weekends are not considered to be vacations.

Thus, whatever Terry R earns during the summer vacation would have to last him for nine months in Lincoln or Austin or Los Angeles. Or you can send him checks.

You understand all of this already, hence your dilemma.

How else to do this? I commend you for thinking it through. Too many parents sign those National Letters without considering the ramifications.

One alternative would be to decline the scholarship help and take out a student loan instead. (You know, I am sure, that scholarship athletes are not allowed to take out loans either. Rules.) Terry R could still play football, but also pick up some cash with part-time jobs. It would be almost impossible to work during the football season, but the general cash flow situation would be much better.

He would have enough money to buy frozen yogurt for a date.

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