New expenses loom for university athletic departments

After years of sharply raising the compensation for some of their best-known employees, college sports programs across the nation face the prospect of having to make substantial pay increases for many of their less prominent workers.

Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Labor revealed changes in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that, beginning this fall, will basically double the amount of money workers must make to be exempt from federal overtime-pay requirements.

Absent an exception for colleges or some other intervention, this update to rules and salary thresholds unchanged since 2004 could require athletics departments to give hundreds of thousands of dollars more a year in pay and benefits to an array of staffers from assistant coaches, to trainers, to ticket-office personnel.

Unless they receive sufficient salary increases, these types of employees will have to become hourly wage earners who are either limited to 40-hour workweeks or paid at overtime rates when they exceed 40 hours.

The changes are “a concerning issue in a lot of industries,” University of Oregon Deputy Athletics Director Eric Roedl said. “But in ours, there is so much travel, so much work on nights and weekends that it’s difficult to manage.”

At present, workers who exceed 40 hours on the job in a week do not have to be paid at overtime rates if they are employed on a salaried basis, their jobs are primarily professional, administrative or executive and they make at least $23,660 per year. Under the FLSA rules, scheduled to take effect Dec. 1, they will have to make at least $47,476 a year to be exempt from overtime.

An issue for NCAA Division I athletics departments is that this new expense is coming on the heels of a series of changes in NCAA rules designed to increase benefits for athletes.

In April 2014, the membership voted to allow schools to provide athletes with unlimited food service. Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, schools have been permitted to award scholarships based on the full cost of attending school, not just the traditional tuition, room, board, books and fees.

At schools in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision and Divisions II and III, “I think they’re going to have to curtail opportunities (for athletes) because of this,” said Mike Aitken, the vice president for governmental affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management.-USA TODAY

Steve Berkowitz, @ByBerkowitz, USA TODAY Sports