Despite the glamour, the demands on and off the playing fields make time a valuable commodity for UA student-athletes

By Thoden K. Janes

Arizona Daily Wildcat

If you live your life under a microscope, the views that people on the other end of the lens have of you are often going to be a bit out of focus.

Good deeds sometimes go unnoticed. Mistakes tend to get blown out of proportion. In almost every case, people know more about you than you know about them.

Such is life for many UA student-athletes.

Everything is just fine and dandy as long as their team is pounding Miami in the Fiesta Bowl or marching into the Final Four.

But if players get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, they could get burned. If players make a bad decision at the scene of a crime they didn't commit, they could get burned. And if players sneak into Arizona Stadium with three friends and drink some beer, they could get burned.

Just ask Arizona football player Tedy Bruschi.

Last fall, Bruschi and three other student-athletes climbed over the stadium's fence and went up and sat in Section 104 to have a beer. They got caught. Bruschi said that comes with the territory.

"I'm a UA athlete and everything I do like that is going to be noticed," Bruschi says. "I'll be the first to admit that I was wrong, but I'm not perfect, I make mistakes, too."

When John Q. Student makes a mistake, though, it doesn't hit almost every paper from here to Phoenix. That is the difference between being a regular student and being an athlete at a Division I university.

But generally, there is not much that can be done about these kinds of things. As Bruschi says, the athletic department cannot put limits on its players, because they are still college kids and want to have fun just like everybody else.

UA athletic director Jim Livengood says he knows kids tend to get a little crazy, but says student-athletes still need to know what the consequences are.

"I think the thing is that we are trying to make our student-athletes aware of the fact that they tend to be in a much more visible situation," says Livengood, who until last fall was the athletic director at Washington State. "I like to say that if you are involved in an activity that might appear in, say, the headlines of the Daily Wildcat if that would not bother you, then continue that activity. If it would bother you, you might want to step back and consider what you are doing."

Some student-athletes say they have taken this kind of advice to heart. They know that they need to be conscious of their actions because of the fact that they are given so many benefits and are so public.

"When you do something wrong, it's magnified like 10 times," says Kim Conway, who in March closed out her five-year career as a forward on the Arizona women's basketball team. "I even think now that I'm done playing I still have to uphold an image. I don't think it's right, but it's done, so I think it's our responsibility to do the right thing so bad things won't be (said) about us.

"I think that the way people look at it is that you're getting paid, you're getting a scholarship, so you need to respond by proving that you're deserving of it."

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Because of all the financial assistance and other bonuses UA student-athletes receive, it may seem to some people that they have it made. The full scholarship, the nationwide travel, the early registration for classes and in some cases, the national exposure, all make their situations enviable. Furthermore, they get all this for doing something that, in most cases, they love.

Despite the benefits, coaches and players alike agree that being a part of Division I athletics is more difficult than people think.

"That's a lot of crap, student-athletes don't have it made," says Jim Rosborough, who has been an assistant to UA basketball coach Lute Olson since 1990. Specifically, Rosborough points a finger at college professors, who he says sometimes give unfair treatment to student-athletes.

"Unfortunately, there are people that say, 'Okay, they are special, but in my class, they're not,'" Rosborough says. "I've seen it where some people make it hard on student-athletes academically.

"In fact, there are peple on the other hand who will not only make it difficult, but won't give them a fair shake at all. There are professors who have no tolerance for athletes who need to miss a class for an athletic contest."

But teachers say some degree of bias is unavoidable.

"It is hard for a teacher to ignore the fact that they are athletes, at least subconsciously," says William Wright, a graduate assistant in the English Department. Wright had UA basketball player Dylan Rigdon in his sophomore composition class last spring and currently has a women's golf team member in his freshman composition class.

"The woman in my classthis semester has made a point to not say that she is an athlete," Wright says. "Dylan Rigdon doesn't have that opportunity. Once, he had to get up in front of the class to answer questions about his work and Dylan was asked more questions about basketball than about his writing."

The fact that there is no escape from the limelight, even in the classroom, relieves little of the pressure felt from the grueling schedules most athletes have.

It makes it even tougher when you play two sports like Tony Bouie. Bouie has been a member of the football and baseball teams for the last four years.

Missed classes are a relatively common occurrence. If he doesn't have a baseball game or practice, it's usually off to spring football workouts.

The time commitment can be brutal.

"You have to be able to balance and manage your time," Bouie says. "And that is very difficult, trying to be able to juggle your athletics with your academics and maintain a certain standard of academic excellence to be able to compete."

Most people in the athletic department say being a student-athlete is like having a full-time job while having to attend classes.

Normal students who hold just part-time jobs have enough trouble balancing school, work and academics. Those few select students that play Division I sports would love a schedule so light.

"The hardest thing is putting everything in perspective and in order," says Joan Bonvicini, who recently completed her third season as the UA women's basketball coach. "Playing is like having a full-time job, when you consider the amount of preparation and travel I think that is real difficult."

Her players should know. Just over a month has passed since the season ended, and already, most of the returning players have begun spring workouts to prepare for next season, which doesn't begin until November.

Likewise, many of the other fall sports are currently holding practices, and can sometimes take up 15-20 hours of an athlete's time per week.

In season, players must sometimes dedicate themselves to well over 40 hours for games, practices, workouts and team meetings.

Most coaches try to do their best to accommodate their players.

"In the spring, we do (consider the players' class schedules) a lot," UA football coach Dick Tomey says. "In fact, we completely do our practices around how many guys will be there. Like on Mondays, we practice at night a lot because a lot of guys have classes during the mid-afternoon."

All in all, though, most student-athletes agree that the rewards outweigh the pressures.

The doors that are opened, the friendships that are developed, the care that is received all of that makes the heartbreaking losses and the grueling schedules seem obsolete. And the only difference between them and other students is that they have extraordinary physical talent and the typical student does not.

"Honestly, for me, when I walk on campus, I feel like I'm just a regular student," Bouie says. "I'm just another guy walking to class. I guess it's kind of nutty to think that, but I don't get a lot of people coming up to me and going, 'Oh, you're Tony Bouie, aren't you?'"