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Big Ten coaches, players given an overdue voice

Back before $6.9 million was deemed an appropriate amount to pay the Alabama football coach; before Texas A&M installed flat-screen TVs in the bathroom mirrors of its new locker room; and before the creation of a 12th game, a 13th to determine the conference champion, a 14th for the national semifinals, and a 15th for the championship, you could make the case that the deal was equitable: Players receive tuition, books, room, board, and career training, in exchange for their services.

Virtually everyone now agrees that’s not enough. But until Thursday, the 65 big-revenue schools – Notre Dame plus those in the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, SEC and Pac-12 – could not beef up scholarships or help parents pay for bowl trips because the small-budget schools stood in the way.

It was like RC Cola bossing around Coke.

That day is gone, and if every Big Ten coach, administrator and player is not rejoicing, they’re not paying attention.

Already there was an obvious divide: No recruit picks Toledo over Ohio State. Although Michigan State and Eastern Michigan will play on the same field Sept. 20, the teams from East Lansing and Ypsilanti do not operate on level playing fields.

Now the haves have a whole lot more power, thanks to the NCAA’s Division I board of directors on Thursday approving a measure to allow the so-called power five to self-govern in certain areas. And thankfully, they possess the will to make changes.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said he looks forward to “having real discussions to make the student-athlete experience better – and not just for football and basketball.”

Linebacker Collin Ellis said he hopes all the schools offer guaranteed 4-year scholarships to the athletes who are “risking [their] limbs.”

Safety Ibraheim Campbell spoke of “offering medical care beyond your 4 years because of injuries you might have sustained while playing.”

Ellis and Campbell pointed out Northwestern already does both – and they would like to see athletes at other schools get the same treatment.

Student-athletes finally will get a say on legislation, with players claiming 15 of the 80 spots (18.8 percent) on the new voting panel.

“Any voice the players get is a positive step,” center Brandon Vitabile said.

It remains to be seen whether this newfound autonomy can be used to alter the recruiting calendar, which Big Ten coaches despise.

Prospects currently are not permitted to take official visits until the first day of their senior year. Many schools have filled their recruiting needs by then, so parents are on the hook to pay for unofficial visits.

Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen is among those thirsting for that to change, saying at Big Ten media days: “Certain [conferences] don’t want [paid] recruiting trips to take place in the Big Ten in the summer … because that’s when it’s beautiful, right?”

Here’s looking at you, SEC.

The autonomy could pave the way for players to get endorsements and have more contact with agents.

Would that make their lives better? Maybe, maybe not.

But as Fitzgerald said, at least they can now have the discussion.

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