FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- The commotion at the Justin Bieber concert started with whispers. The crowd had discovered another teenage idol in its midst.
"Is that her? Is that Missy Franklin? Yea, I think it is."
In Row 17 of Denver's Pepsi Center, Glyris Renehan heard the noise swelling. She had brought three teenagers, her two daughters and a family guest who happened to be the most recognizable 17-year-old girl in Colorado.
The woman behind them leaned in and asked for autographs. Rivulets of the audience started streaming toward the Olympic champion. Then people began climbing over seats.
Marielle Renehan recognized the drill. Like most of Franklin's teammates at Regis Jesuit high school, she has learned to deal with these swarms.
"I had kids in my lap," Marielle said, "and I had a mom pushing me out of the way."
Glyris Renehan tried to organize a line, while Franklin tried to oblige every request. She works a crowd like a pro. But she's also a high school student who doesn't want to overwhelm her friends.
"People were trampling my 13-year-old,'' Glyris Renehan said. "Missy kept apologizing to me, and I said 'What do you have to be sorry for?' She's just so down to earth, she doesn't want to say no to anybody.''
A woman who worked for the Pepsi Center tried to maintain order. Marielle looked at her friend and got a signal to seek more help. Before the show, the girls had gone backstage to meet Bieber, who struck up a Twitter exchange with Franklin during the London Games. Marielle dug out the cell-phone number of the security worker who had ushered them to that meeting, and texted him.
He took Marielle and Missy away to a suite above the stage, far from the wonderful seats that Marielle's father had arranged through work. Olympic fame had taken them right up next to Bieber, and now it had pushed them farther away.
Seven months after she won four gold medals and a bronze in London, being Missy Franklin remains a full-time adventure, and at least two full-time jobs. Her decision to swim for the University of California and abide by the NCAA's amateurism rules, in addition to costing millions in endorsement income, requires that all the work be done as a Mom-and-Pop operation.
Bins full of mail from around the world took over the Franklin kitchen table a while ago. Friends, including the breeder of their Alaskan Malamute, Ruger, come by to help sort and address the correspondence. Each reply includes a personalized greeting from Missy on an autographed photo.
Fat rolls of stamps have become household staples, like laundry detergent. The Franklins' bank account takes the hit, shielding Missy's amateurism while she engages her fans like a pro. An agent could reduce the workload, but Article 12.3.1 of the NCAA bylaws prohibits retaining one.
So D.A. Franklin, a medical doctor, stepped away from her practice to manage her daughter's career and savor her final years at home. D.A. left her job almost two years ago and has no idea whether she will ever return.
"We're lucky we could afford for me not to work," she said, "but I'll read some of these [online] comments that say, 'Oh, it must be easy for Missy to stay amateur because her parents have a lot of money.' But we're not rich. They don't know that I worked for the state and that Dick is doing this environmental work now, trying to do his own thing."
They have a comfortable, but hardly lavish, home in Centennial, a Denver suburb, and the wherewithal to travel with their only child to swimming venues in Moscow and Shanghai. But the costs pinch, and D.A. says that every time Missy checks off the rejection box on an official notice of five-figure prize money, "Dick looks like he's going to be sick.''
In discussions about the quirks and injustices of NCAA amateurism, the effects on female athletes tend to be overlooked, if not outright dismissed. Because their sports are considered non-revenue on the college level, amateurism seems like a natural state for them. The concerns of Division I male basketball and football players, television staples, dominate the conversation.
But Missy Franklin was just mobbed at a concert. She has skills and a personal image valued by the open marketplace. She belongs in any debate about the wisdom of restricting compensation for college athletes.
Her parents, backed by Cal coach Teri McKeever, persuaded her to commit to just two years of collegiate swimming and then turn pro in 2015, when sponsors will target prospective stars of the 2016 Games in Rio. But it's worth asking what both she and the NCAA lose because she can't afford to compete all four years at Cal. How many Olympic sports might become more prominent in the NCAA if amateurism rules didn't shut out the best athletes? Michael Phelps trained at the University of Michigan but never competed for the school because that choice would have cost him a fortune.
After the Olympics, Missy's parents spoke with what they describe as "Fortune 200'' companies and came away only with generalizations about potential deals.
"It was all nebulous, so we didn't have anything to take to Missy,'' her father said. "If you don't have an agent to negotiate for you, you won't know exactly how much you can earn.''
Her parents don't want to pick a fight with the NCAA or start a crusade. They just want to support their daughter's choice not to make swimming her job right now.
"It's wrong to generalize in terms of what the NCAA does right or wrong,'' Dick Franklin said. "Its rules were designed for one thing, and Missy's situation is a total anomaly, dealing with this 17-year-old who's turned down millions of dollars.''
But both parents love sharing good stories, and they agreed to discuss the complications of keeping a young superstar cocooned every day, and of sheltering her from the marketplace in what may be her prime earning years.
It turns out, rejecting money can be hard work. D.A. Franklin couldn't find a way to fend off a Hollywood studio's check for Missy's cameo in a movie, so she sent it to the family accountant with instructions to hold it, uncashed, until it expired.
The couple have just one great qualm about their daughter's fame and its awkward fit with amateurism. It surpasses even the concerns about a career-derailing shoulder injury. Her father wishes he could hire professional security to be with her at all times.
"These things are my biggest nightmare," her father said, holding his smart phone out in front of his face. "When people take pictures, they have to get right up close. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the people are great. But if there's a 45-year-old scruffy guy posing with your 17-year-old daughter, and you think he has mal-intent, you know there's no reaction time."
At the Bieber concert, no one ended up hurt, although the chaos cost Missy and Marielle their fabulous seats. The suite, to their teenage tastes, constituted the opposite of one of the NCAA's forbidden extra benefits. It was a cost of fame.
Glyris Renehan stayed put in Row 17 with her younger daughter, and as the two older girls made their getaway, ran her own kind of interference.
"Everyone was asking 'Where'd she go?'" Renehan said, "and I just said: 'Who? Where did who go?'"
* * *
At the Colorado state swimming championships, as Franklin pulled several body lengths away from the pack in the 200-yard individual medley, a commentator on the association's webcast of the race said: "There definitely has to be an adrenaline rush when you're in the pool with a four-time Olympic champion."
During the awards ceremony, Franklin hugged each of the other finalists, and a man watching on the outskirts of the deck said: "She always handles herself so beautifully.''
It was hard to tell whether these comments flowed naturally or as a little backlash against people who objected to Franklin's decision to compete with her high school team after her five-medal haul in London. A Wall Street Journal story in midseason carried the headline "I Have to Swim Against Her?'' and quoted some rival swimmers as saying that Franklin hogged the glory, records and medals.
Missy admitted that the story hurt her.
Her mother wondered whether she should have discouraged the idea of competing for Regis Jesuit one more time, sparing her the unkindness. D.A. could understand why other parents might be bothered by her daughter's fame swallowing up their daughters' biggest swimming moments. When tickets sold out fast and some people couldn't get their whole families into the state meet last year, the Missy frenzy was blamed. This year the meet organizers tried to set up a system to sell the $7 seats to a pair of family members of each competitor. Glitches arose, but on the day of the finals, a handful of tickets were still for sale at the entrance to the pool.
Fact is, the pool's 1,000-seat capacity has always been a tight fit for everyone who wants to attend, but still, D.A. Franklin understood.
What never made sense to either parent was the belief that high school swimming was a waste of Missy's time, something she didn't need at all.
"The one formula for Missy being world-class is having fun,'' her father said.
"If she went pro now, she might not do as well,'' her mother said, "because I'm not sure she'd be as happy.''
Her appeal to sponsors might diminish, as well. Missy's star quality transcends her speed. It comes from the almost constant smile, and from the tears she shed as her career at Regis Jesuit ended in a state title.
It comes from the little dances she does in a warm-up pool, the shoulder bop as she walks to the block, the eye contact she always holds, the 6-foot-1 frame that she pulls up to full height, never slouching, the absolute comfort in her body at age 17. She walks red carpets in makeup and stylish dresses, yet never looks prettier than when her hair is drenched and her face scrubbed with pool water.
As other swimmers approached her for pictures at the state championships, her high school teammates took the camera phones and did their part as if they were born to the task.
"You try to get them to pose in groups so it goes faster,'' Marielle Renehan said. "…To us, she's just Missy, but we know she's a celebrity, too, and we'll do anything we can to support her."
On the bus from the Denver suburbs to Fort Collins for the state meet, the Regis swimmers handed out notes of affirmation to each other, a team tradition. Missy had typed up a long letter, with copies for everyone. It began "Hi beautiful girls" and closed with:
If there is one thing being a senior has taught me, it's that you have to take in every second, every moment because you never know how fast it goes or if that moment will ever come again. So do me a favor, and before you swim, stop, breathe and look around. Look at the pool, the crowd, your team standing behind you cheering, and smile, because we are so blessed. And we have no reason not to smile. And I think God deserves a little smile. I love you all more than you will ever know. Thank you for being my inspirations.
You won't find many swimmers attaching that kind of sentiment to competing in Grand Prix meets. Her payoff for not getting paid may be an antidote to burnout, a common ailment among swimmers as they outgrow precocity.
"You can tell Missy really wants to be a part of something bigger than herself,'' Bert Borgmann, commissioner of the Colorado High School Activities Association, said at the end of the state meet. "I think it means a lot to her.''
Her parents saw it as their job to help her weigh that desire against lifetime financial security. They left the decision up to her, but guided her toward the compromise of two years in NCAA swimming.
"We had to sit down and make sure she knew what the implications were of millions of dollars,'' her father said. "I mean, a 17-year-old doesn't have any idea, Missy doesn't have any idea, of what millions of dollars means. We had to talk to her about this could be your family's security, this could be your children's education, this could mean you never have to go to a job every day. You can do what you want and go have fun with your career.''
She has talked about marine biology or teaching, professions with low starting salaries and not much of a high end. Both of her parents understand the value of finding a career that means more than a paycheck. Dick Franklin, who played college football in his native Canada and then blew out a knee at a Toronto Argonauts training camp, spent most of his adult life as a high-level executive with companies such as Reebok, Coors and Head Sports. As a scuba diver for 30 years, he said he witnessed the degradation of the ocean floor and wanted to move into "semi-retirement'' environmental work. He is now the executive director of a company that helps cultivate clean-technology entrepreneurs.
"I'm a little bit of a tree-hugger,'' he said.
His wife worked part-time as a consulting physician for the state of Colorado, caring for the developmentally disabled, people who became mentally or physically impaired by an event that occurred before they reached 22. "I just love that population,'' she said.
The first time she and her husband had The Talk, Missy had come back from two European meets with $73,000 in prize money to reject. D.A. and Dick sat her down and explained that D.A.'s job with the state had paid $75,000 that year.
"I was taking on-call on the weekend sometimes, and I'd get calls at 2 in the morning, 3 in the morning. I didn't have to go out. It was all phone calls. But it still was enough to wake me up,'' D.A. said. "I said to her, 'Honey, whatever you do is fine, but that is a lot of money, and you need to understand how much money it is. You remember how hard I worked last year, and you'd get up in the morning and say: 'Mommy did you have call? You look tired.' And she said 'yes.' I said, 'That's how much you made in four days of swimming.' And she just looked at me.''
They discussed the issue again after London and agreed that a two-year, up-front commitment would be the perfect compromise. Now, she won't be badgered by media wanting to know when she is going pro. The sponsors will be able to set budgets in advance and not jockey for position in the meantime. McKeever and Cal know when her scholarship will become available again.
"It's all very, very, very transparent,'' Dick Franklin said.
If only NCAA regulations offered as much clarity …
* * *
Before pandemonium at the Bieber concert, there was drama over a Bieber care package. A box full of Justin-related gear arrived at the Franklin home after the London Games, and Missy told the Today Show about the gift. Somehow, in her excitement, she had overlooked the threat of NCAA Bylaw 16.02.03.
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, an opponent of amateurism rules, soon tweeted that the NCAA would call the package an illicit extra benefit for a basketball player. (For the record, Bilas also regularly tweeted during the Olympics that Missy should be able to accept as much money as she can earn and still swim in college without forfeiting amateur eligibility.)
The Franklins quickly re-boxed everything and returned it. When the story reached NCAA headquarters, a spokeswoman clarified that Missy could have kept the items because Bieber sends gifts to fans who are not famous amateur athletes.
Starting when Missy was only 15, D.A. Franklin had read and re-read the amateurism bylaws, but they always left questions unanswered. She'd call the NCAA to ask for clarifications, wait awhile on hold, then hear a staffer simply read the relevant passage of the rule book to her. The same passage she had already read dozens of times before calling. She remembers getting clear instructions only once.
When Missy got her license and could drive herself to practice, D.A. called to see if she could use USOC grant money (legitimate for covering expenses) for gas or auto insurance or maybe for … a car itself. She recalled the exchange with a hint of a smile, suggesting she knew she was pushing a button.
"Oh no," she said in a startled voice, imitating an NCAA staffer awakening at the magic word. "Not a car.''
When the family went to the Fiesta Bowl, which chose Missy its parade grand marshal, the Franklins met NCAA president Mark Emmert and his wife, DeLaine. Emmert, they said, apologized for the Bieber care-package scare. D.A. said that DeLaine listened to her explain the difficulties of getting rules interpretations and talked about consulting with parents on ways to make the NCAA more user-friendly.
"I applaud that," Dick Franklin said, "and we hope D.A.'s experience can be helpful to them."
To streamline the process on her own, D.A. began calling college compliance officers for advice last year.
A restaurant owner near the Franklins' home wanted to throw a dinner in honor of Missy's Olympic triumph. Could they accept?
Answer: Only if the Franklins paid for their three meals.
The producers of the TV show "Pretty Little Liars," one of Missy's favorites, wanted her to make an appearance. She was thrilled. The casting people for "The Internship," a movie starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, also put in a request.
The answer to this appeared straightforward: The studio could pay her travel expenses, and because Missy was a minor, cover the costs for one of her parents. No other payment would be allowed.
DA made all of that clear to the studios. They came back and said they had to pay Missy. One offered to see if the union would permit a payment to charity instead, but that didn't work, either.
"They said 'We don't care about the NCAA, we have to be in compliance with California labor law,'" D.A. said. "It was the craziest thing I've seen.''
It got nuttier. The studios also said that Missy would need to have a trust established. Why? Because Jackie Coogan, the child actor who later became Uncle Fester in "The Addams Family" lost most of his juvenile earnings to a greedy mother and stepfather. Since 1939, all children working in the industry have needed a trust account named for Coogan, protecting at least 15 percent of their wages from guardians.
So D.A. set up an account at Wells Fargo, told the studios where to deposit the Coogan trust funds and commenced pretending the money didn't exist. "I haven't looked at a statement," she said, "and I don't even know if they put money in there."
The remaining pay from "Pretty Little Liars'' went toward expenses, while "The Internship'' check went to collect dust at the Franklins' accountant's office.
"It was a couple thousand dollars, and we're never going to cash it," D.A. said. "But we may have to pay taxes on it anyway, because 'The Internship' reported it ."
She trusts that the NCAA will not punish her daughter for this pretzel of a conundrum. She also kept four simple coffee mugs, mailed from a stranger, with pictures and times from each of Missy's gold-medal races printed on them. The usual questions flitted through her head when they arrived, but she decided that anyone would interpret this gift as benign.
Since the Olympic movement junked its amateurism rules in the late '80s and early '90s, the NCAA has become permissive about certain financial rewards for members of Team USA. Athletes can now collect prize money, once unthinkable for both Olympians and collegians, at designated events each year without sacrificing any eligibility. For Missy Franklin, five Olympic medals yielded just over $200,000. (For more details on financial allowances and prohibitions, click here.)
As always, though, the NCAA does not allow extra benefits to be shuffled off to relatives. So Franklin's parents have to fund their trips to Missy's meets on their own. Attending the 2011 world championships in Shanghai drained $12,000, they said, and London probably twice that. "We haven't even added it up yet,'' D.A. said. "It's too painful."
An exception for the Olympics would have allowed them to accept London travel costs from a Games sponsor, such as Visa, but the Franklins said they didn't want to make their daughter feel beholden to any company before she sits down to negotiate endorsements in 2015. The field, they believe, should be completely open for her and her agent.
So, trying to keep the budget tight, they went to London with some of the worst seats at the Olympic pool, way up in binoculars territory.
"Getting up there was hellish. There was no bathroom, no concessions," Dick Franklin said, starting to laugh. "It was god-awful."
NBC eventually found better seats for the couple, perhaps to spare the cost of hiring a Sherpa to record their reaction during Missy's races.
But if they could change just one thing about the amateurism rules, it wouldn't affect their expenses, D.A. said. They'd want their daughters' rejected checks to go to her favorite charities. "Can you imagine," she said, "if we could tell the people in Charlotte: take that $10,000 and give it to Stand Up for Cancer?"
* * *
At the end of the state championships, with her parents and teammates and Ruger the dog all waiting to go home, Missy still couldn't say no.
She had promised to sign autographs in the rec-center lobby, partly as a way of preventing pool-deck congestion wherever she went during the meet. But the Regis celebration and then a press conference had slowed her down. The team bus was past due to leave for a dinner back in the Denver area. Torn, she apologetically asked her high school coach: "Do you want to go back without me?''
Nick Frasersmith looked at her for a second, then said gently: "No, we don't want to go without you. We'll wait.''
A woman who had escorted her all weekend, Audra, promised to be the bad guy and cut off the autographs when Frasersmith wanted to leave. Missy took her seat and greeted the first fan with a voice hoarse from an imminent cold and endless screaming. A little girl handed a piece of paper to the Olympian and said: "I have a picture of Missy Franklin. Is that you?''
Missy took the photo and held it alongside her face. Yes, indeed, this was the genuine article.
Behind her, her father stood like a sentry. Even with only young girls waiting in line at a familiar place, he seemed mindful of the hazards of rearing an American sweetheart. After London, he and D.A. had told her to drive with her windows up constantly, to make sure that she always checked the back seat of her car before she got into it, and whenever possible ask friends to walk with her to the car.
"Right now, as far as Missy's concerned, the world is a fabulous place. It's been nothing but 17 years of joy,'' Dick Franklin had said earlier, on a walk with Ruger. "Everybody's beautiful. Everything is wonderful, and we hope to keep it that way as a long as we can. Because all that spirit and all that innocence can go away with one bad five-second experience where she feels threatened or gets scared.''
For the second time that day, he vowed to hire a handler as soon as his daughter turns pro.
"I'm probably being overdramatic,'' he said, "but I'm being a father.''
After 15 minutes, the autograph session still had a couple dozen girls in line. Audra asked Frasersmith if he wanted to go, and when he nodded yes, she stepped in. One last group of girls got a picture. One girl walked away muttering disappointment. Her friend, walking alongside, said brightly as they stepped outside into a chilly Colorado night: "Well, at least you got that close to her.''