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June 25, 2011
Compliance department jumped to action following storm
TUSCALOOSA | For the University of Alabama's athletic compliance department, the April 27 tornado in Tuscaloosa created some challenging numbers:
51: Student-athletes affected in some way, from a simple power outage to complete property loss.
15: Student-athletes with unlivable housing.
10: Estimated number of those 15 who had no renter's insurance.
But it was the number zero - the number of deaths among student-athletes - that made all the other numbers seem manageable.
"We recognized that as an institution, we dodged a bullet," said Matt Self, UA's compliance coordinator. "So the attitude was, we have resources, let's get out and use them."
The athletic department's first coordinated response sprang from a meeting of all head coaches and assorted administrators, held in the darkness of a power-outed Mal Moore Athletic Facility, on the morning after the catastrophic storm.
The top priority was to confirm the health of more than 600 student-athletes, a gargantuan task that was achieved by day's end by any means necessary - from phone calls to texts, from Facebook to Twitter, from hugs to handshakes.
Helping those affected most, however, wasn't as easily checked off the list in a day's time. Compliance Director Mike Ward began the process by asking the NCAA for the "Katrina Waiver" through the Southeastern Conference office. Named for the hurricane that changed New Orleans forever in 2005, the Katrina Waiver is an e-mailed nod of permission to provide basic assistance to student-athletes in a time of crisis that would, under normal circumstances, be barred by NCAA rules.
Self said UA has been careful to use the waiver when and where it is needed while not allowing an abuse of it.
"If a local booster or donor gave some food (to a student-athlete) immediately, sure, that's fine," Self said. "But a month out or two months out, if a booster said, 'Let me take you on a shopping spree to the Summit in Birmingham,' we wouldn't send a waiver on that because it's overkill. But immediate relief? Can we take them to the mall or Target or Wal-Mart for a necessity? That's covered."
Self said UA has yet to encounter a waiver issue that went beyond its threshold for a reasonable application.
UA compliance established a hierarchy for recovery assistance for its student-athletes who needed it, beginning with making claims through their own insurance policies, and helping them with the paperwork associated with those claims. The next tier on that hierarchy was making claims to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), then assistance from the Acts of Kindness Fund, which was established by UA to assist all of its affected students, as well as faculty and staff. UA Athletics made a $1 million contribution to that fund in May.
Finally, the fourth tier of assistance for UA's student-athletes in need has come from the Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund, a supplement from the NCAA of roughly $250,000 a year for student-athletes' well-being.
"You can't fund scholarships out of it. (But) we do things like braces, eyeglasses, and as special circumstances arise, maybe counseling, or unique educational opportunities," Self said.
The fund is meant to be spent to zero and is replenished annually in the summertime. Self estimated it had roughly $75,000 remaining in it at the time of the storm. Fortunately for athletes in need, the Acts of Kindness Fund has allowed the opportunity fund's role to be more one of "filling in the cracks," Self said, rather than a primary solution.
Reach Chase Goodbread at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0196.