Sports Columnist

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

OK, pay them

The NCAA got it down to the Elite Eight this weekend and the basketball tournament will bring in about $800 million. The media are filled with people saying what a travesty it is that the players aren’t getting paid.

Scholarships don’t count.

They used to, back when getting a free college education was considered a pretty big deal. You know, way, way back when college basketball and football players were mostly just students who happened to play basketball or football instead of basketball and football players who also might be real students.

That so many in the media sniff at the value of a free college education speaks volumes about what little respect they and so many fans have for the student component of the modern day, big time student-athlete.

Let’s look at the out-of-state costs to attend the eight schools that made it to the Elite Eight:

1. Loyola, Il. $56,000; 2. Kansas St, $38,000; 3. Florida State, $58,000; 4. Michigan, $62,176; 5. Texas Tech, $51,000; 6. Villanova, $68,000; 7. Duke, $72,710; 8. Kansas, $42,606.

That’s serious money. Of course, very few students have to pay the top rate. Aid is available for students based on family income, but $300,000 is a lot of money to pay to get a degree, even from Duke.

But most players and their supporters among the media and fans don ‘t seem to think that fairly compensates them for their contribution to the NCAA’s massive income.

Before I give you my idea, a couple of thoughts: I’m completely serious and I know it will never happen. Also, I’d like to remind you that people in the Penguins’ front office – except for Mario Lemieux – laughed me off when I suggested they go after a casino license in order to get funding for their new arena.

Doing so played a major role in getting $350 million and a new arena. No need to thank me.

I’m not shy about proposing wild ideas.

Forget scholarships. They’re not appreciated and too often they encourage respectable institutions of higher learning to sacrifice their academic integrity by admitting unqualified students and/or providing bogus courses and majors.

Give the kid cold, hard cash contingent on him being admitted to school based only on his ability, based on grades and test scores, to predict as a successful college student.

Villanova could say to a kid, “We’d like to have you play basketball at Villanova University and we’ll pay you $68,000 a year. Assuming, of course, that our admissions department approves your application.”

Give the kid the $68K in cold, hard cash. Maybe 680 one hundred dollar bills in a nice brief case.

He could use the $68,000 however he liked.

He could use it to pay for his freshman year at Villanova or he could apply for a college loan and make payments after he graduates. Maybe use the $68,000 as a down payment on a house for his parents.

Keep in mind that there’s a good chance that his tuition costs, with the help of student aid, would be much lower than $68,000.

On the first day of his sophomore year, he gets another briefcase full of cash to do with as he pleases. Pay for tuition. Invest it in the stock market. Start a business. The college loan option would still be there and he’d have plenty of cash for every day expenses.

Every year, on the first day of school, a pile of cash in a briefcase. Do you think that might change his and everybody else’s opinion on the value of a free year at Villanova?

Ask the parents who are paying for their kids.

The player would still have to be a real student working toward a degree to be eligible for basketball and, if he’s ultimately paying for his classes, he might be less likely to take bogus or worthless ones.

If he’s one of the 1.3 percent of college basketball players who go to the NBA, the $272,000 he borrowed could be paid off on the day he signs his first contract.

The only way this happens is if the colleges only admit college-ready students, because a kid who finds he can’t cut it academically isn’t going to continue to pay for classes.

Which means, of course, that it’s never going to happen.

Paying players who also are getting a free education should never happen, either.

  • Do you think maybe Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke should have asked around a little bit to find out what coaches might be interested and available in the job before firing Kevin Stallings?
  • Josh Allen of Wyoming is still my favorite quarterback in this year’s NFL Draft.
  • Did you hear what Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price said when asked about Sidney Crosby’s ridiculous goal that he knocked out of the air after scooping it up to himself?

“Are you surprised, really?”

  • Holy Cross University is phasing out the nickname “Crusaders” for its athletic teams. Something about violence perpetrated in the Crusades. Pathetic.
  • It’s probably fair to point out that, if Lyke is/was reluctant to seriously pursue Sean Miller because she believes he’s a cheater, she’s doing the right thing.

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter

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