Former UF star works to empower athletes

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Florida Gators forward Haley Lorenzen (44) guards Georgia Bulldogs forward Merritt Hempe (13) during the first half at the O'Connell Center on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016 in Gainesville, Fla. [FILE]

Haley Lorenzen was dependable and consistent in her four-year basketball career at the University of Florida, scoring 1,214 points and grabbing 730 rebounds from 2014-18.

Now, as a UF graduate student studying sports administration, Lorenzen is on a path to impact student-athletes throughout the country.

Lorenzen attended the NCAA Convention in Orlando this week and was one of 15 former and current NCAA student-athletes to vote on 11 autonomy proposals. She is one of three athletes from the SEC, a list that includes LSU football player Blake Ferguson and Mississippi State volleyball player Khristian Carr.

The proposals, which include greater access to agents for career advisement and more access to mental health services, are designed to give student-athletes in the revenue-producing power five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12) more of a voice in policies that can affect their college careers.

“It used to be where coaches and administration had all the voice and student-athletes really didn’t have any,” Lorenzen said. “It’s been really interesting to see how decisions are changed as people have become more informed.”

A blatant example of that power imbalance occurred in 2013, when former Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was physically and verbally abusing players during practices, going as far at throwing basketballs at them at high speeds if they made mistakes in drills. Players on the team did not report the abuse for fear of losing their scholarships. It took a staff member from Rutgers, Eric Murdock, to leak a video to media outlets for the abuse to come to light.

For Lorenzen, the path to athlete advocacy began as an undergraduate. At the Hawkins Center on UF’s campus, the academic center for Gator athletes, advisers put Lorenzen in contact with the Southeastern Conference office, to learn and make connections. Lorenzen already was a member of student-athlete advisory committees at UF and, through her meetings with the SEC, became a member of the student-athlete leadership council, providing feedback on SEC proposals directly back to UF athletic and academic administrators.

“That made me more aware of some of the things that were going on around the country,” Lorenzen said.

In 2017-18, during her senior year, Lorenzen was named vice chair of the SEC women’s basketball leadership council. In April 2018, she attended her first NCAA autonomy meeting with UF Athletic Director Scott Stricklin, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and Alabama Athletic Director Greg Byrne.

“Now I’m just continuing my seat at different autonomy meetings throughout the year,” Lorenzen said.

During five years in leadership roles, she has already been involved in significant student-athlete reforms, including changes related to time balance, scholarship protections, cost of attendance, concussion protocol and student-athlete welfare. One reform included Division I coaches being required to count travel days toward NCAA weekly limits.

“Minor details, but they actually make a big difference,” Lorenzen said. “So I think the student athletes are making a great transition into being able to put their opinions and their ideas into well thought-out and executed ideals and proposals.”

Lorenzen admitted sometimes it can be hard to share views when put in the same room more powerful coaches and administrators, but that it’s important to stay composed and on point.

“Every time she goes to these events, so many people speak highly of her,” UF Senior Associate Athletic Director Jeff Guincq said. “Whether it’s other administrators, our own athletic director, Scott Stricklin, they all remark that she comes across in a positive way with good ideas. She carries herself well. She speaks her mind and is not afraid.”

As for the proposals this week, Lorenzen said she believes more mental health services are vital for Division I athletes who face the pressures of balancing school, practice, training and games on a yearlong basis. Lorenzen said the setup for mental health services for athletes is more than adequate at UF, but that she learned this week that there were some major Division I programs that did not have similar services to cater to athletes. She said there is strong support from athletes and administrators this week for providing more mental health services for school athletic programs that need it.

“There’s going to be athletes that deal with different things than normal students do, and so having someone that’s specialized in that field is super helpful,” Lorenzen said.

The subject of more agent involvement with student-athletes, Lorenzen said, is more tricky. The FBI probe into college basketball brought about recommendations from an NCAA commission, chaired by Condoleezza Rice, to allow agents more access to advise students and provide transportation services to pre-draft events without impacting their eligibility. The agents, though, would be certified and regulated by the NCAA.

“We’ve got to make sure that we’re being very specific in terms of keeping it amateurism, in that the whole point of college is going for a degree,” Lorenzen said. “Some of those other important factors, such as staying educated when it comes to professional leagues, I think the biggest idea that everyone could agree on is they just want the best information for their student-athletes so they can make a well educated decision.”

Lorenzen earned her undergraduate degree at UF in tourism and event management in August of 2017, then a master’s degree in event management in May of 2018. She’s on track to earn her sports management degree in May and, while still in school, is working as a leasing agent in Gainesville.

Whether Lorenzen becomes an athletic director someday remains to be seen. She said she would love to work in student-athlete engagement or career development or even compliance, based on her experience at recent NCAA autonomy meetings.

“It’s really just getting my foot in the door somewhere and being able to specialize what I want to go into later,” Lorenzen said.