Report: Kansas hires senior citizens

Report: Kansas hires senior citizens

Published Feb. 7, 2011 12:00 a.m. ET

The University of Kansas has hired a brigade of senior citizens hell-bent on making sure the students on its basketball team go to class -- and stay there, The Wall Street Journal reported in its Tuesday edition.

"They're sneaky sometimes -- they'll get you," said freshman guard Royce Woolridge.

Schools have long enlisted other students to help keep tabs on their scholarship athletes, who are naturally tempted to skip class from time to time to catch up on the sleep they miss practicing, training and traveling for far-away, late-night games.

Because college professors rarely grade based on attendance and cannot be bothered to call the roll in big lecture halls, athletic departments often pay students a modest hourly wage to do the dirty work instead.


At Kansas, officials recently identified a fundamental flaw in that system: regular college students do not necessarily want to go to class any more than athletes do, and even the most responsible ones can be all-too-easily charmed by the most popular students on campus, some of them who are soon to be multimillionaires.

Associate athletic director Paul Buskirk, who heads the school's Student-Athlete Support Services unit, hired a retired police officer and former Marine named Don Gardner to help oversee the class-checking operation and recruit a few more senior citizens to join.

"If it was just another student you could ask them, 'Hey, lemme slide,'" said Jeff Withey, the Jayhawks' seven-foot center. Signing in with retirees "gets kind of annoying sometimes, but it keeps you on edge," he added.

Since the regime change, class checking at Kansas has become a game of cat and mouse.

While the retirees say some athletes try to avoid absent or tardy marks by bribing them with game tickets or trying to melt their resolve with tales of woe, most players prefer to arrive more or less on time and then escape when the checkers' backs are turned, sometimes just minutes after signing in.

To catch these would-be jailbreaks, the checkers prowl the halls after waiting 15 minutes by the classroom door and perform multiple "spot checks," in which they peer through windows to make sure that the athletes are still in their seats and are not sleeping, shopping, Googling or Facebooking on their laptops -- offenses that can get reported to academic counselors as well.

Most parents like the system. Maeshon Witherspoon says she has never heard her son, freshman guard Josh Selby, complain.

"I think everybody needs some pushing at different times of their lives -- just because you're an adult doesn't mean you can't use some extra motivation," Witherspoon said.