GAINESVILLE — After spending the past year using his ever-increasing fame to spread his faith and message of hope from state prisons to Croatia and the Philippines, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow felt compelled to do more.
So UF athletic officials, in conjunction with Tebow and his family, asked the NCAA to examine one simple question: Exactly how much more could the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback do to help people without jeopardizing his eligibility?
The answer wasn't easy to define. But based on Tebow's previous philanthropic efforts, the NCAA agreed to work with UF to define his ability to participate in charitable events.
After nearly six months of discussions and rules interpretations between the University Athletic Association, the SEC and the NCAA, in an unprecedented move, Tebow was allowed to participate in a week of fundraising activities in conjunction with Saturday's Orange and Blue game.
The events included a theme park trip on April 11, with Tebow (who paid his own way), some UF students and 10 underprivileged children from the Gainesville area; a visit Thursday to Shands Children's Hospital, led by Tebow, for an ice cream social, redecoration of a children's play area and visits to sick children (those who were too sick to attend received personal in-room visits by Tebow); a Powder Puff charity football tournament on Friday with 22 teams of UF students, and a 200-person booster dinner Saturday night after the game — all with the goal of raising about $300,000 to be donated to an orphanage in the Philippines and a local hospital.
The events were organized by the UAA and UF student government. About $200,000 will be donated to Uncle Dick's Home, an orphanage in the Philippines where Tebow's father, Bob, has been actively involved for years as a missionary and Tebow has spent many summers visiting. Another $100,000 will go to Shands Children's Hospital in Gainesville. None will benefit Tebow directly.
"The NCAA wanted to make sure that any money donated would not be used to benefit Tim Tebow or the Tebow family, and would not be used to benefit the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association,'' said Jamie McCloskey, associate athletic director for compliance at UF. "… The idea was the money would be used to benefit children around the world.''
Most of the orphanage expenses (about $169,000) were submitted before the fundraiser, and include chain saws, water tanks and bus repairs. The orphanage has struggled recently, with shrinking donations due the economy and the sinking value of the U.S. dollar. It operated with a $25,000 deficit last year.
NCAA officials did not provide a special waiver specifically for Tebow, but acknowledged they worked with UF to "help interpret and apply our bylaws related to extra benefits and promotional activities.''
McCloskey said Tebow's request was that it not be done for him, but the many people that can be helped by his participation in activities. The NCCA heard that plea, McCloskey said.
"The NCAA deserves a little bit of credit here,'' he said. "It could have been very easy for them to say, 'We don't do this. The rules don't allow for this.' It would have been very easy for them to say no. Because they also realize if they said yes to this, maybe that door that was closed is now cracked open (for others) a little bit. There could be other questions coming down the road. But they have been great.''
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.