KU sports managers prove to be vital assets of school teams

For Ernie Rodriguez, responding to a mass email sent out by Kansas Athletics asking for practice players for the women’s basketball team altered his course at the University of Kansas.

While he enjoyed playing in the pick up games at the Ambler Student Recreation Center, the Lenexa senior didn’t find the pick-up basketball as competitive or organized as he wanted.

“It was just something that I was interested in and gave me an opportunity to come to a college practice and get to see what it was like,” Rodriguez said.

Ashleigh Lee/KANSAN
Ernie Rodriguez, a senior from Lenexa, rebounds for junior guard Markisha Hawkins during practice on Tuesday, Dec. 4 in Allen Fieldhouse. Rodriguez has been a student manager for the past two years after starting out as a practice player for one year. “The coolest thing about the job was being able to sit on the bench during the Sweet 16,” Rodriguez said.

After spending his sophomore year practicing alongside the team, he befriended a few of the student managers.

One of the managers was graduating after the season and told Rodriguez that he should apply to take his spot as a manager for the women’s team.

“I love basketball, love being around it and I got to a point when I made my decision, I kind of was interested in being a coach or being involved in college athletics, and from people I talked to in college athletics, being a manager led to positions within college athletics,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez obtained an interview in the spring with Larry Hare, the Assistant Athletic Director in charge of Equipment Services, and the person in charge of the student-manager program.

With basketball being the most popular sport a Kansas by far, Hare receives between 60 and 80 applications for spots on the men’s team each year.

But there are only a handful of spots available each year.

Hare screens all the applicants, bringing them in for interviews and whittling the list down to around 30 students, who will be brought in to work the basketball summer camps, where they will be supervised by the current managers.

Even the sports with fewer applicants use summer camps or offseason training to test out prospective managers.

“It was long hours and tiring, but it was definitely worth it in the end,” Carissa Miller, a softball manager said of her time working the summer camp. “It was a great experience getting to work with the kids and get to know the coaching staff.”

At the end of the summer camps, the staff and the current managers, sit down and select the students who will receive the offers to fill the vacant spots.

The second tier of students, those who they want to bring into the program, but were just below the cut for the sport they indicated as their top priority, are put on a list and offered any positions in other facets of the program.

But once a student is committed to a sport, they’re in it until they exit the program.

Switching sports programs isn’t allowed because of the time they invest in training the managers.

He said it can take up to a year to train managers because each time they go through something in a season, they are dealing with it for the first time.

This allows the managers that don’t graduate to assist in the training of the new hires.

Miller said communication between the managers and the coaches is a two-way street.

“Sometimes they come down before practice and go through things, but it becomes pretty routine in that you can just set up things with your eyes closed by the end of the season.”

Eventually, the managers learn what is expected from the coaches before practice. Then they are expected to show the ropes to the new managers that come along the next year.

“Coaches are creatures of habit for the most part, so you will have practice set up the same way most of the time,” Hare said.
The more experienced managers get the benefits of traveling more frequently.

“This year, myself and two other managers will go to every away game and then the three other managers that are new will rotate just to get that experience so that next year, once people graduate, they know what to do on the road,” Rodriguez said.

Even for those that don’t travel on a trip, their days can be long. The managers that stay behind are responsible for the laundry when the team returns, and if the team doesn’t return home until 9:30 or 10 p.m. at night, those managers can be at the fieldhouse doing laundry until well past 1 a.m.

Hare can’t guarantee his managers a trip to the final four, or being able to be involved in the NCAA volleyball tournament the first time it’s held at Allen Fieldhouse.

He wants those experiences to wow the managers, but he doesn’t want the workload to surprise them.

“I can’t promise them those things, but I can promise them the work,” Hare said.

While the athletes are only permitted to have 20 hours of contact while class is in session, the manager’s responsibilities of preparing and then cleaning up after practice can keep them working longer.

The NCAA permits managers to have up to 30 hours of work a week during the school year.

“The first semester being a student-manager, my grades suffered because I lacked the time management,” Miller said. “From then on out, my grades have done nothing but improve.”

Just like student athletes, the student managers are expected to maintain a specific GPA.

If they receive below a 2.5 for a semester, they are put on probation. If it happens in consecutive semesters, they are removed from the program.

“What I like to see them do is make sure they’re taking care of business on the hill, and let this be the icing on the cake for the college experience,” Hare said.

To assist with their academics, the managers meet with the academic counselors from their specific sports’ programs in order to properly plan their semester and make sure they won’t be overwhelmed.

“It’s pushed me to be a better student,” Rodriguez said. “It’s made me manage my time better so I can manage my classes and I’m getting better grades.”

In September, Hare held an information session for all the freshmen that had contacted him about entering the student manager program.

He brought with him a manager from football, men’s basketball, softball and baseball — four sports that all have significant demands on its managers.

The managers went into great detail about all of the work they put into their programs and the long hours.

They also described some of the sacrifices they’ve made, such as taking tests on the road and missing out on time with friends or significant others, because they had to do laundry for the team or they had to get up early.

“We spent most of the meeting ‘trying to scare them off,’” Hare said.

At the end of the meeting, a prospective student approached Hare and asked him if the time he spent as a manager during school was worth it.

“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” Hare responded.

  • Updated Dec. 4, 2012 at 11:33 pm
  • Edited by Lauren Shelly