Bloom divides his passion between two sports

Saturday, December 14, 2002

BOULDER, Colo. -- After a week of final exams and football practices, Jeremy Bloom is trading his cleats for skis -- at least temporarily.

Bloom, Colorado's elusive kick returner and wide receiver, returns to his other love -- mogul skiing -- when he competes in a World Cup moguls event in Finland on Dec. 19.

He then will rejoin his football teammates for their bowl game, Dec. 28 against Wisconsin in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. After that comes more skiing.

The two-sport star believes he can balance the demands of both. It's just that the NCAA won't let him.

Asked his decision if he had to choose between the two sports, Bloom said, "I already did. I had to in August."

He opted for football after the NCAA ruled he could not play college football and still earn endorsements as a skier.

Skiing without endorsements is financially prohibitive, however, so Bloom has appealed the NCAA ruling.

"If I had to totally eliminate one sport, I don't know," Bloom said. "That's why I'm doing the appeal. This is my last shot. I can't do both of them for too much longer.

"Financially, it's impossible for skiing. My parents are paying for this season. It's ridiculously expensive, and it's not fair to them."

Big backing

Last year, when Bloom delayed his enrollment at Colorado to train for the Olympics, his endorsements were considerable. A model for Tommy Hilfiger, Bloom appeared in an ad with presidential niece Lauren Bush. Through his various endorsements, he earned a six-figure income, which just about covers the cost of training and traveling as a World Cup skier.

A favorite of teenage girls who frequent his Web site, the photogenic Bloom also has hosted fashion shows in South Beach and has played in celebrity golf tournaments.

Bloom said the U.S. ski team will pay his travel expenses, but only if he does well enough in competition.

Bloom knows it's unlikely he can successfully defend his World Cup moguls championship because he has missed too many events.

"That's not a big deal to me," he said.

What is a big deal is his battle with the NCAA and what he sees as right vs. wrong.

"Their are tons of athletes who rely on corporate sponsorships for their sport," he said. "Olympic sports and others don't have a salary. There are probably 100,000 athletes that compete in a sport that's corporately funded. You're telling me that all 100,000 of those athletes cannot play a sport in college? It just doesn't make sense.

"I was talking to (Olympic figure skating gold medalist) Sarah Hughes. She played tennis in high school. Now if she wanted to go back and play in college, she couldn't. She would have to give up all her sponsors. That's not right.

"If more people understand what the NCAA is doing to us, I think the more likelihood it has of being changed."

The NCAA sees it differently. David Burst, the NCAA's Division I chief, said at a hearing in August that allowing athletes to sign their own endorsement contracts would drastically change the organization's stance on keeping student-athletes as amateurs.

The NCAA insists he must forgo his endorsements if he wants to play football.

Not a distraction

Bloom hasn't let his legal hassles dampen his competitive spirit.

He calls his freshman season of football "nothing short of a dream come true. To me, college football is the best thing in America. Running out on the field in front of 75,000 people and getting ready to return a punt -- to me that's pressure and excitement at the highest level."

Bloom caught a school-record 94-yard TD pass against Kansas State. He finished fifth in the country in punt returns with a 16.8-yard average, returning two for touchdowns, including an 80-yarder for Colorado's only score in a 29-7 loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game on Saturday.

"One of my coaches told me I broke two records this year, one for the longest reception in CU history and one for the longest punt return in Big 12 championship game history," he said. "That's pretty cool. I never would have expected it. I took a lot of ridicule when I came out for football, with people saying, 'You're 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, stick to skiing."'

Bloom has been off skis for seven months, except for a few days of skiing at nearby Winter Park last month when the football team had an open date.

"I was rusty," he admitted. "I want to be competitive when I get back on the World Cup, but I realize I'm at a disadvantage. Those other guys have been training since May.

"Being away from skiing has reminded me of the passion I have for the sport and how much I would miss it if it was gone. So I'm excited to get back on snow and compete."

Bloom said there are similarities between returning punts and competing in moguls.

"I ski my best when I don't think, when I just push off and go fast, when I rely on my skills and my instincts and I just react," he said. "Punt returns are the same way. If I think about who's coming down or who's unblocked or how bad or good the punt is or if I'm going to drop the ball, I don't do well. I just have to see the ball, catch it and rely on my vision.

"I'm used to things coming fast. When I'm skiing 35-40 miles per hour in moguls, everything is coming so quickly. I just react, and it's the same on a punt return. When I catch the ball, the defenders are coming in and you just have to find a way through it."

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