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With the local college football season ready to get under way today, it is important to caution you about an extremely serious matter and to remind all fans to be on their best behavior.

That's because, right at this very moment, without even knowing it, you could be committing an NCAA violation.Let's put it this way: If you are standing UP WIND of a football player from your alma mater, you're probably committing an NCAA violation. In other words, you could be jeopardizing your student-athlete and your school, thus resulting in the death penalty (for the school and, in some cases, the booster), or worse (a visit from a member of NCAA Enforcement).

So, please, be careful.

The University of Utah is. When the Utes mail football tickets to their fans, they also send along a BOOSTER'S HANDBOOK. It includes a list of things you - Mr./Ms. Booster - can and cannot do with student-athletes, a list of the potential penalties, a question-and-answer section, a page devoted to clips of frightening headlines (SMU football receives death penalty, etc). and an empty page that is entitled NOTES (are you getting all this down?).

You can hardly blame the Utes, because, let's face it, you just can't be too careful these days. NCAA rules are so many and so complex that no one - not even coaches and definitely not boosters - can understand or know them all. You never know what NCAA crime you might be committing, and sooner or later the NCAA will find out about it.

There are some who believe that when George Orwell was writing about Big Brother he was referring to the NCAA, but he didn't say so because he didn't want to be put on probation. Nowadays the NCAA is so powerful that many schools are rushing to turn THEMSELVES in. Is this a great system or what?!

To head off trouble, the Utes, like many schools, send their boosters and season ticket holders a BOOSTER HANDBOOK. They would send the entire NCAA manual, but someone might get a hernia hefting it from the mailbox back into the house, and then he wouldn't be able to understand it anyway. It's about 500 pages long, but it reads like 5,000 because it was written by lawyers.

Things have gotten so out of hand, that the Utes have hired a fulltime "compliance coordinator" named Holly Parker, whose function is to interpret the rules for Ute coaches and to ensure everyone affiliated with the athletic department knows the rules. If she doesn't know a rule, she can look it up.

"I have to look at my book everyday," she says. "There are so many rules. Coaches call me all the time."

It was Parker who wrote the BOOSTER HANDBOOK. She cut to the chase, boiling down 500 pages to 18 and putting it in language people can actually read. Imagine what she could do with War and Peace.

Some of the NCAA's rules are just common sense. For instance, if you give Louie Lineman a credit card, Cadillac or airline tickets, then you are clearly asking for a date with the fun-loving guys in NCAA Enforcement. But in other matters, the rules are a little fuzzier, and that's where the handbook helps.

For example: Suppose you, Mr. Booster, were driving down the street in a snowstorm late one night and saw your alma mater's quarterback walking home in a blizzard. Should you A) Offer him a ride for heaven's sake and drive him safely home? B) Stop and offer to buy him something warm to eat? C) Wave, but keep driving?

The answer is C (see pages 4 and 5 of the BOOSTER HANDBOOK). Sorry, boosters cannot give rides to student-athletes. Furthermore, boosters may provide meals to student-athletes only on "infrequent and special occasions" and then the meals must be in the booster's home and the student-athlete must find his own transportation.

True or false? If, during today's Utah-Utah State game, you suddenly had this amazing urge to buy quarterback Mike McCoy a summer home, it would be fine with the NCAA.

True. As long as you give one to every student in the school (Page 4).

If, during today's game, you bumped into a football recruit at the concession stand, you should A) Say hello and return to your seat; B) Engage him in charming and witty conversation; C) Tell him that you sure hope he signs with your alma mater real soon; D) Tell him you'll buy him a new wardrobe and a hotdog if he signs with your alma mater.

The answer of course is A (Page 8). According to the handbook, contact with a recruit is permissible only when it is "unavoidable" and is not pre-arranged. Even then the incidental contact "may involve only normal civility." Also, "casual contacts" at university athletic events are permissible if "incidental." And a recruit may visit a locker room, but "if a booster is present, only incidental contact is permissible."

In other words, you, Mr. Booster, can contact recruits as many times as you want, as long as you just keep bumping into each other and all you talk about is the weather. Otherwise, the recruit must treat you like a disease.

This is just some of the fun reading you'll find in your BOOSTER HANDBOOK. So remember, when you attend college football games and other athletic events this fall, be careful. And if you see a football player walking home in the rain, be sure to treat him with "normal civility." Just wave, and keep driving.