Big Ten media day is more than just X’s and O’s. It allows the media to bombard players, coaches and conference officials with questions regarding college football’s most pressing issues. Currently, one of the biggest topics in the sport is the compensation of players and whether that should be implemented in collegiate athletics.
One player who spoke at length on the subject was Illinois senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
"I think in general, the way things are moving, I would expect that there would be changes within the next decade and even sooner than that with the players getting paid," Scheelhaasse said. "I think we get a tremendous opportunity, don't get me wrong. I think to go to awesome universities, to get an education paid for, to get room and books and all that paid for is great. ... But I think when you look at it from the other side that -- if you just look at March Madness and the bowl games in general -- the NCAA makes something around $11 billion, and the fact is the players don't really see any of that. And obviously the NCAA's a non-profit organization, so are they not having to pay taxes on that? So because of that, you would like to think that some of that money, not even a whole lot ... that could do a lot."
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He framed the life of a collegiate athlete by talking about his own.
"It could do a lot in my life," Scheelhaase said. "After just getting married in these last couple weeks, all of a sudden your life changes. You're not just thinking about yourself and trying to eat Chipotle week-to-week. You're thinking about how you're buying for two. A lot of things are just different from just being in our shoes. It's hard to have a legitimate internship in the summer like a regular student, and then all of a sudden when you get out of college you don't really have any experience going into the job world like a student would have an opportunity to do in the summer. So there's a lot that you have to look at, a lot I'm sure the people that have bigger titles and get the big bucks will be looking at."
The argument is a hotly contested one, with some sides arguing the points Scheelhaase made and others bringing up the free education and other university services the athletes receive.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney also addressed the topic, and he -- a former collegiate athlete -- seemed to be on the same page as the Illini QB.
"The miscellaneous expense needs to be implemented, Delaney said. "And it needs to be implemented in a way that allows the student to engage in athletics and academics and also to receive support from the institution above the scholarship, up to the cost of education. What that number is, I'm not sure."
Fitzgerald commends player safety advancements
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald couldn’t help but laugh at himself when he used the phrase “back in my day.”
At 38, Fitzgerald is one of the younger head coaches in the Big Ten, but he still couldn’t help but be impressed by the strides that have been taken in player safety since he was an All-American linebacker for the Wildcats in the 1990s.
“We come up with positive solutions to keep our young men safe,” Fitzgerald said. And that's not only on game day. It's 365 days a year. If it's nutrition, sleep, the way that we practice, the way that we play, those are all positives.
“Back in my day, we wore neck rolls and the game was played from the breadth of this table. And there were certain days of the week that I couldn't practice because of the physical pounding you went through on game day, on Saturday. But the way you had to practice to prepare.”
Fitzgerald and his fellow coaches were specifically asked about a new NCAA rule that would eject players who target and hit defenseless players above the shoulders. Punishment for such an act would be severe, with first-half violations earning an ejection from the game and second-half violations earning an ejection from the current game and the first half of the following game.
The rule change was made in the name of a safer game, something Fitzgerald thinks is progressing in the right direction.
“I think we're trending in a very positive direction,” Fitzgerald said. “Are we at the destination? I'm not sure we ever will be. I think that will be an ongoing progression of making the kids and the game safer and safer. And I think we're in a positive place.”
Scheelhaase, Delaney take different stances on video games
The recent ruling in favor of Ed O’Bannon deals with college athletes not receiving money when profits are made off their likenesses in popular video games without specifically using their names. Another big topic at Big Ten media day.
Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has experiences on multiple sides of the issue, be it as a consumer and fan of such games or a player “featured” in the games.
“As a player it's exciting the first time you see yourself on the game because it's something you've been playing since you were a little kid,” Scheelhaase said. “So, there's a whole lot of excitement that we feel when we see our player on there, even though it's not our last name on the jersey or anything like that. There's a part that an organization's making a ton of money off you by producing a video game with you on it. And you don't really see any of that. I think every player understands that and kind of wishes there was something that could be done about that. I think any player would tell you the same exact thing.”
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney, meanwhile, referred to the issue as “uncharted” and said that there are many more days in court ahead before a final decision is reached, mentioning both Congress and the Supreme Court along the way.
“I gave you my belief about the college sports system, amateur, educationally-based,” the commissioner said. “I don't think that the O'Bannon case represents the best interests of intercollegiate athletics. I don't know how it will be resolved. It will be litigated.”