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Badgers football: UW alums in favor of boosts to scholarships

2014-07-01T04:30:00Z Badgers football: UW alums in favor of boosts to scholarshipsTOM MULHERN tmulhern@madison.com, 608-252-6169 madison.com

It was a staple of quarterback Scott Tolzien’s five years at the University of Wisconsin.

Tolzien certainly isn’t complaining, but he’s not sure he would have made it without his afternoon helping of a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.

That’s why, in the midst of all of the changes coming to college football for the upcoming season and beyond, the thing that grabbed Tolzien’s attention was the unlimited meals and snacks for approximately 900 UW student-athletes, which will go into effect Aug. 1.

“The first thing that caught my eye — because I remember eating peanut butter and jelly every day at lunch — was the meals,” Tolzien said on Monday during the Legends of Wisconsin Classic golf outing at University Ridge.

“I thought that was an awesome step, just because I remember that was a bit of a pain every day. You had a mad scramble to class every morning. Then you are busting over to the (Camp Randall) stadium for meetings.

“Lunch was kind of an afterthought. I thought that was a great step.”

There is so much about the upcoming college football season that remains a mystery. Even recent Badgers players, like San Francisco 49ers rookie linebacker Chris Borland — who tries to keep up on such matters — find it difficult.

“It’s funny how scholarships are great opportunities, but a lot of guys are scraping by toward the end of the month,” Borland said of his UW playing days. “When you are asked to play at this level, in front of 100,000 people and others making a lot of money — while you are eating Ramen noodles to do so — it’s not right.

“I’m glad it’s changing. I think it’s going in the right direction.”

That seemed to be the opinion of the vast majority of players who shared their opinions at this event. But it was not the only viewpoint.

“I’m on the fence with a lot of things, how I feel,” said former Badgers safety Jim Leonhard, who has played nine NFL seasons but is unsigned for the coming year. “I love college athletics as a whole. I want to make sure they are still good. I want to make sure nothing blows up.”

The changes are coming fast and furious, so it’s easy to understand why some current and former players feel uneasy.

What it looks like right now is “full cost of attendance” scholarships are expected to be passed this summer and likely in place for the upcoming season. Full-cost scholarships could mean an extra $3,000 to $3,600 per UW student-athlete for the school year.

Indiana University announced its own student-athlete bill of rights last week, a 10-point document that included such things as a lifetime degree guarantee, which would allow student-athletes to finish their degrees if they leave school early, provided they were eligible for two seasons.

It also included comprehensive medical exams that were once freely available only incoming scholarship athletes, but would now include walk-ons. Every student-athlete would also receive an iPad and, curiously, a blazer.

Yet some of the former college athletes at the golf outing expressed concerns.

“To me, it’s kind of a slippery slope,” Leonhard said. “There are so many different things that could happen. Where are they going to draw the lines?

“I think it’s going to end up being a positive thing for the athletes, which I see as a great thing. The good universities will figure it out; they’ll make it work. I think there are going to be some brighter days ahead. Hopefully, there’s not a whole lot of downfall from it.

One concern lurking out there is what happens when some schools can offer bigger stipends than other schools, due to different costs of living. Could bidding wars erupt over players?

Just about all of the former student-athletes who were interviewed have their own stories about trying to make ends meet — some worse than others.

Eagles safety Chris Maragos, a former Badger who won a Super Bowl last season with the Seattle Seahawks, told the story of former UW defensive back Prince Moody, who had a hard time making ends meet on a scholarship, in part due to his mom’s debilitating disease that robbed her of her motor skills.

“He had a really tough family situation,” Maragos said. “His mom was a quadriplegic. He had younger brothers and sisters, and no financial support at all. There were times we’d go out to eat and share a meal together.”

But former UW offensive lineman Ryan Groy, who signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Bears in May, said he didn’t have many issues with meals — helped by the fact he could go home to Middleton when needed.

“I was fortunate to have a scholarship my whole career, which was nice,” Groy said. “You struggle sometimes, like in the summer, there’s not enough funding. I don’t think there is enough money in the end for rent and all of that stuff.

“But I think they’re starting to figure it out, giving out stipends. It’s definitely going in the right direction.”

That’s one of the many reasons this endeavor is such a challenge, because the circumstances can be different for everyone.

“But some guys, you see them at the facility a lot,” Borland said. “They’re drinking protein shakes as a meal sometimes. It’s not horrible, but it’s not right for how much money they are making for the NCAA.”

While the former college athletes would have loved the chance at full-cost scholarships during their time, nobody who expressed his opinion sounded upset.

“I don’t think it’s long overdue,” Groy said of the changes. “I think they just understood they needed to do a little more. I think they’re going in the right directions.”

But Groy thinks there is a problem going too far.

“Upping the scholarship checks and giving them more meals is plenty, in my opinion,” he said. “I don’t think they need to keep going further.”

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(6) Comments

  1. Fflambeau
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    Fflambeau - July 01, 2014 11:18 pm
    Cecemisch: Actually, I know exactly what Scott Tolzien had access to in terms of meals and it comes from the NCAA itself: "Prior to this change (to unlimited meals and food), scholarship student-athletes received three meals a day or a food stipend." Source: http://www.ncaa.com/news/ncaa/article/2014-04-15/ncaa-committee-approves-expanded-meal-allowances-athletes There was even a nutritionist on board at UW to give athletes counseling and to work with F&B people in providing a training table for athletes. That is from uwbadgers.com
    I'd say 3 square meals a day at special athlete training tables is much more than lots of people around the world get. And remember,at these special athlete tables the servings are immense and varied. And get real: the coaches are not going to have their salaries cut for this as you well know. The costs are going to be borne by the university at large, not the athletic program.
  2. cecemisch
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    cecemisch - July 01, 2014 8:16 pm
    You really have no idea what Scott Tolzien had access to in terms of meals so questioning his story is inappropriate at best. You're worried about what increased stipends might cost the University? How about reducing the salaries of the coaches and other staff to provide a more sustainable subsidy for players that are juggling the requirements of their sport in addition to their studies and who risk life and limb in order for the University to make LOTS of money from their efforts. The writer's headline is not misleading considering that this is a sports column! Polling general alums on this subject is a ridiculous idea! Only alums who have been through the experience first hand could possibly comment on this subject in any meaningful way.
  3. CitizenB
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    CitizenB - July 01, 2014 8:42 am
    Imagine how much better these athletes will be able to perform when they can have access to proper nutrition, not just 3 quick meals a day. The amount of physical activity they go through requires additional caloric intake, which I'm sure the people making these decisions don't think about in the least ($$$$). That and the reduced stress of not having to scrounge up pennies for rent at the end of the month is going to be very beneficial to these players.

    And thinking that this is going to put students on the losing end, just think about where all the money is coming from. It isn't raising tuition costs for everyone else. Consider that most athletic scholarships in the state go to UW-Madison athletes, it's the UW System school athletes who are taking and continue to take the hit.
  4. RedPine
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    RedPine - July 01, 2014 7:27 am
    Clearly, players are already paid. This move is just a slight increase in their compensation, making it a little better for many of them. Given the huge increase in revenue from the FB, BB and (sometimes) hockey sports it seems like a very small concession, but as Tolzein said, it is a step in the right direction. Good for them. It might even cut back on the under-the-table payouts that are common in some conferences. However, watch out for a bidding war between the big 5 conferences using the cash COLA stipend amount to attract players----with a vastly weakened NCAA, this could indeed make college sports worse.
  5. bosco
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    bosco - July 01, 2014 7:25 am
    Why is the student on the losing end of most of UW changes? The focus on the student comes after professors, administration, athletics and political correctness.
  6. Fflambeau
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    Fflambeau - June 30, 2014 11:29 pm
    I believe Scott Tolzien had access to 3 solid meals a day as a Badger so the peanut butter and jelly story is very misleading (and he indicates he did it more for convenience than anything else). Nor did it seem to hurt him; he did pretty well at UW. What's the problem? This push towards professionalism is over the top and will change college sports forever. And it is going to cost the universities big time because this will only be the beginning. Once you get on this slippery slope, you may as well start paying big time salaries too. The headline too is very misleading. First of all, the writer seems to think that the only "alums" are sports grads. They're not. There are roughly 500,000 Badger alums in the world. Secondly, there is no information presented here (except for a couple of casual interviews) to indicate at all that more UW alumns favor this than disfavor it. No effort was made here to scientifically poll alums to justify this conclusion so this headline is completely misleading. There does appear to be a major push for professionalization of college sports from lots of the media outlets covering college sports. That, I believe, is where this misbegotten notion is coming from, not from fans.

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