EMU uses humor to help coaches, athletes understand rules compliance

by Ward Mullens, Published December 14, 2010

YPSILANTI - Compliance in collegiate athletics is nothing to joke about, just ask schools who have been in the spotlight recently. No one is laughing.

But that's doesn't mean that humor can't aid in helping athletic departments understand the rules.

Just ask Melody Reifel Werner, associate athletics director and compliance officer at Eastern Michigan University's Athletics Department.

"There are 33 section in the Division I rule book," said Reifel Werner, holding up the manual, that more resembles the phone book for a large city.  "In one section alone there are more than 3,000 rules. There also is a database of more than 100,000 interpretations to help apply the rules to different types of situations.

"I was trying to think of some humorous way to help them understand the rules," said Reifel Werner, "I wanted to be a little entertaining with stuff that can be dry and complex."

The result was a series of three cartoons depicting different rules. The cartoons were drawn by David Coverly, an EMU graduate and the author of the nationally syndicated cartoon strip "SpeedBump."

One of the cartoons depicts a smiling dog with a pen and a piece of paper looking at an EMU athlete. A sign below the dog reads, "Beware of Dog" but with the word "Agent" written under the word 'dog.' Another shows a student in a fancy car and two other students noticing, with one saying, "Just because he is a great poet doesn't mean that the poet booster should have given him a new car!" The third cartoon shows a diver standing on a diving board, wearing only a robe and bunny slippers. Someone below says, "Okay, we should probably tell her that practice time is over!"

The cartoons are related to how many hours a player can practice; avoiding contact with agents and extra benefits that they cannot receive.

Reifel Werner said she gave Coverly the three rules she wanted to emphasize and he did the rest.

"Everyone that has seen them has laughed and loved them," said Reifel Werner, who had the posters placed in locker rooms and other athletics areas. "And, more importantly, they understand the message being conveyed about the rule."

Reifel Werner said that compliance in athletics has changed substantially in the last decade.

"I have watched it grow from nothing to a highly specialized area," she said.

She said the way compliance officers are viewed is changing as well.

"Some still think of us as police who are out to get them," said Reifel Werner.

That's not been the case at Eastern Michigan, she said.

"EMU views us a partner on the team. We want to work with the coaches and help them get what they need without risk to the program or the University," she said.

Reifel Werner meets regularly with the president, organizes monthly rules meetings with coaches and conducts orientation meetings with student-athletes on a regular basis. She also meets with EMU's five booster clubs.

She said each group has its own specific questions pertaining to compliance.

"Most of the questions from the students are about transferring from another school or rules about their academic eligibility. I also get questions from prospective students' parents about eligibility," said Reifel Werner.

EMU has more than 500 student-athletes competing in 21 sports, the most of any Mid American Conference school.

"The prime area of questions for coaches is recruiting rules. How many phone calls can they make and how much contact can they have with recruits," she said. "With boosters, it's more about education and communication."

Reifel Werner said Eastern Michigan has enjoyed a clean record and has a "robust reporting process" with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

"We do report a lot of secondary violations, which are usually inadvertent situations," said Reifel Werner.

"We have to do everything we can to educate student-athletes, coaches and boosters," said Reifel Werner.


Ward Mullens

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