Mason’s Maundered Musings: Starting the conversation and stopping the arguments

Mason Schweizer, Opinion Editor

The time of year has come for lost productivity, wasted trees and overbearing emotions felt towards 18-to 23-year-old college dudes. Yes, my friends, March Madness is upon us. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, affectionately known as the Big Dance, began last night with two of the four play-in games.

For the next three weekends, tens of millions of dollars will be legally wagered, with another few hundred million illegally wagered, on the athletic performances of a bunch of unpaid college kids.

Let me be clear. I am a big opponent of paying college athletes. Not that those in the “moneymaking” sports (men’s basketball and football) don’t deserve it, because they definitely should get a cut of the billions of dollars of revenue generated.

But the college athletics system is more complex. Rules and regulations, such as Title IX, mean that all student-athletes are created equal. By that logic, a Heisman Trophy-winning running back and the last person on the gymnastics squad should receive the same compensation.

Obviously, the amount of monetary worth of each student-athlete varies. And those commercials about 99 percent of NCAA athletes not becoming professional athletes are true. Only a minute number of the thousands of student-athletes out there have any financial worth, let alone enough to receive compensation outside of full-ride scholarships.

I realize that at the big-time Division I schools, academics often take a backseat to athletics. As a former Big Ten student (go Illini!—wait, we didn’t even make the tournament), I saw first-hand how student-athletes often had to take classes that fit their busy schedules rather than classes that interested them.

But I also saw the access they had to tutors and other educational resources not available to the average student. Student-athletes who want to take their academics seriously can still take them seriously. Those scholarships do hold weight.

Even for the fraction of kids who will go on to play professionally, those careers are usually over before the age of 30, and the value of a degree to use for the next 30-plus years of your life is definitely there.

While it is true that television deals give major conferences millions of dollars a year, according to, only 20 colleges turn a profit off of athletics. So where will this money come from to pay all these student-athletes?

It is alarming that coaches are getting multi-million dollar contracts. But again, the percentage of coaches making even six figures is quite small.

While excess money and money from exorbitant staff contracts can be distributed to kids, there is not enough to go around completely. My idea is to re-structure how scholarships are awarded. Student-athletes should not be able to lose a scholarship, save for disciplinary or academic reasons.

But the days of kids getting cut from a school and losing their scholarship should be over. If student-athletes are good enough to leave early for the pros, they should be able to come back to school and use the rest of their scholarship.

I would like to see a system where scholarships are not just for the time the student spends playing sports. Over the course of their lives, whether during the normal college years, or later down the road, scholarship-receiving student-athletes should be given scholarships to cover two degrees.

It can be one bachelor’s and one master’s, two bachelor’s, or whatever the specific student may need the scholarship for. If a phenom leaves after a year to go to the NBA and then blows his knee out, he should be able to use the remainder of his scholarship to go back and finish school.

And healthcare for athletics-related injuries should last longer than the time he is at school. A lingering injury that lasts well-past the student-athlete’s time at school should still be covered by the school.

And student-athletes should be able to make money off their own names. As the rules currently stand, a student enrolled in college athletics cannot monetize his name (getting paid for autographs, appearances, etc.). If a kid wants to sell his Rose Bowl ring, so be it.

Many readers may find my ideas off-base, but the point of this column is to start finding a solution, rather than continue the argument. ESPN talking heads like Jay Bilas go on Twitter rants calling for student-athletes to be paid, and saying that the millions of TV dollars brought in should go to the players.

Jay, how can you rail against the system when you directly benefit? If you want to donate your six (maybe even seven) figure salary, then go ahead and complain.
But speaking against the system while you receive money you believe should go elsewhere is flat-out hypocritical.

And if a student-athlete complains he shouldn’t have to wait a year to go to the NBA, or three years to go to the NFL, to finally get paid, then he can go play professionally overseas until he meets professional age requirements. America isn’t the only country with professional sports.