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Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Pat Fitzgerald talks pay-for-play

By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald got a head start Wednesday discussing some of the college football issues that are likely to come up during next week's Big Ten media days.

Prior to meeting with fans at Northwestern's Coaches Caravan in Evanston on Wednesday, Fitzgerald talked with ESPNChicago.com about pay-for-play, ideas coming out of the SEC media days and other issues.

On whether student-athletes should be provided further financial assistance, Fitzgerald thought they should be given enough to get by, but he also believed that any payment or increase in stipend should be for all sports.

"I think whatever the young people need to make ends meet is what needs to be accomplished," Fitzgerald said. "I think it's easy to say, 'Hey, wow, look at all this money these schools are getting.' How are you going to take it down all the way so there's equality across the board for all student-athletes who are on aid?

"The cost of attendance instead of just the cost of scholarship, again, that's easy for football, but how does that equate out for the young lady in soccer or softball or volleyball who's getting 1 percent?"

Fitzgerald thought the Pell Grant, which is a special fund that can be used for clothing, medical costs and more for those who qualify, and gaining employment were sufficient options for student-athletes in financial need.

"I think we have in place right now for a player in need we can facilitate that they're able to receive full Pell, the whole nine yards from the standpoint what they're able to get federally and help them to become employed," Fitzgerald said.

"The employment piece a lot of kids don't want to do that. Maybe we should start there. Why don't you go get a job? Go get a summer job and help that way. They're going to cry, 'Well, I don't have time.' I'm not buying that either. We only have eight hours that we can work with the kids in the offseason. How about a 32-hour (per week) job? There's different ways to do it."

Fitzgerald was strongly against providing additional money to only revenue-generating sports.

"Good luck," Fitzgerald said. "In an era of equality, how can any of us agree to that? That doesn't make any sense. Now, are we putting a value on the players? Is that what we're doing? I don't see that getting any traction."

Fitzgerald did have his own proposal to figure out who actually needs assistance.

"What's the easiest way to do it? Get their tax returns, get their family's tax returns and then create a scale," Fitzgerald said. "That's one thing I thought about. Create a scale. If you're whatever percent above, you don't get anything. If you're below it, then you get (funds) based on your need. There's the easiest thing to do. To base it on revenue generated for a school, no way, no way. Now we're not talking about amateur sports."

Fitzgerald also opposed SEC commissioner Mike Slive's proposal Wednesday during the SEC media days for coaches to be able to contact recruits more. Slive sought to remove restrictions on phone calls, text messages and social media.

"No disrespect to Commissioner Slive, but my quality of life is fine," Fitzgerald said. "And I got no problem with competing my tail off for any recruit, but I think we have the mediums right now in place with Facebook being able to message on the second page, so to speak, being able to email, that allows us to have contact with the kids.

"We don't need to text message. I think the quality of life factor for the student-athletes we realize when we had it, and on the coaching side when we had the ability to text message was awful for both sides. I'm not for that. I'm not for that for our assistant coaches. I do like the ability to communicate with the kids and build a relationship, and we can do that right now via Facebook, so we don't need it.

"I guess it would be easier not to cheat or break rules if you could call unlimited or text whenever you want, sure. The rules are what they are."

One issue Fitzgerald would like to be discussed more was what should constitute breaking the rules and what should be overlooked.

"Looking at in my opinion at what's really important and what's not important," Fitzgerald said. "What's gaining a competitive advantage and what's not? If you're not gaining a competitive advantage, is it really that big of a deal?

"Talking about recruiting and attracting talent, that's an advantage. If you're talking about a water bottle that a guy gave you because it's hot out ... I think there has to be some discussion what exactly it is that is a violation and hold guys accountable to that."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.