As Pacific continues to expand its athletic programs, it is easy to assume that athletes will receive unprecedented special treatment. Few would imagine that Division III athlete eligibility can be taken away if they accept bribes, bets or even a cup of coffee from people and businesses outside the university.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association Associate enforces strict regulations to ensure that athletes are not treated differently than other students. Athletic Director and Senior Women’s Administrator Lauren Esbensen explained the extent of the NCAA regulations handbook that she keeps on her person at all times.
“Ultimately, the university and its boosters cannot treat athletes any differently. If they do, both the university and the NCAA will enforce the rules and both parties will be given a punishment,” said Esbensen.
Esbensen explained several instances that would constitute as a violation of the NCAA regulations and threaten an athlete’s eligibility.Violations can vary from accepting a Starbucks drink to accepting a job under unfair circumstances to even shopping at the Nike employee store.
Esbensen said a violation is any privilege an athlete is given due to their athletic careers, both at Pacific and before.
A common example that she said shows up often is the Nike employee store. Due to NCAA regulations, if an athlete’s connection to the store is through someone they met through athletics, even if that connection was their childhood soccer teammate, they cannot shop there.
Being a small college-oriented town, small businesses in Forest Grove often offer small gifts or discounts to Pacific athletes that they must turn down to ensure their eligibility.
If a violation is made, Esbensen said the next step for the athletic department is to launch an investigation. After the investigation, the university issues a punishment and then the case is sent to the NCAA. If it is not deemed appropriate, the NCAA will then issue its own punishment.
Punishments always include educational components to ensure that further violations don’t happen such as a repayment of equal value of the gift to a charity and game time suspension or complete ineligibility.
Esbensen said Pacific averages zero to two violations a year, whereas a Division I university will average between 20 and 50 violations a year.
There are several exceptions to these rules including the “occasional meal rule,” which Esbensen explained allows boosters to take athletes out to dinner on a very limited basis.
Other factors that will affect athletic eligibility are grade point average, conduct and betting on sporting events.
Three years ago, all Pacific athletes attended a meeting in the Stoller Center gym and were given a brief slideshow focusing on these regulations. Since Esbensen began her position two years ago, all athletes are given a personal lecture and walked through their athletic contracts.
Ken Schumann brought in Esbensen from the University of Portland and created a position for her to assist in various aspects of the program, including NCAA compliance, club sports, intramurals and Title 9 incidents.
She was not looking to leave her previous position, but was drawn to the exponential growth she saw at Pacific.
“The tremendous growth here is one of the main reasons I decided to come to Pacific,” she said. “The new emphasis on athletics made it really attractive to me.”
Esbensen is the highest ranking female in the athletic department because of here background in Division I compliance and trained as a Title 9 liaison,
She explained her job as a part of the professional growth of the department; providing direct support to the coaches and students.
Esbensen is going into her third academic year at Pacific and spends her days in meetings scattered across campus working with coaches, campus wellness, ticket sales and the Student Athletic Advisory Committee.
“I love that my job is so diverse,” she said. “I really get to know all of the parts of the school here, which is pretty unique to Division III.”
When she isn’t in meetings, Esbensen has an open door policy, where she welcomes athletes and students to stop by.
Connecting with the athletes and students has been a big priority of Esteben’s since she started at Pacific.
Esbensen said ensuring that all students receive the same treatment and athletes are held to high standards is of the upmost importance to herself and the rest of the administration.