- Associated Press - Saturday, January 4, 2014

Playing football at Michigan got Joe Holland more than an education.

It got him a job. Two, in fact.

The linebacker on the Wolverines’ 1988 Big Ten championship team was hired out of college by a fellow Michigan alum, with his football connections landing him the initial interview. That he’d worn the famed winged helmet caught the eye of his second employer, too.

“The president of this startup was a huge Michigan fan and lived in Ann Arbor and was a good friend of Bo Schembechler. I’m going to potentially go work for these guys and he’s a Michigan fan? That didn’t hurt me,” said Holland, now the co-owner of an Internet software company.

“So yes, it’s absolutely been helpful.”

The debate over paying college athletes has clouded this entire football season, beginning with allegations in August that 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel received money for signing autographs. Johnny Football was eventually cleared, but the NCAA is still fighting an antitrust lawsuit by former players who believe they’re owed billions of dollars in compensation.

At the NCAA’s annual convention later this month, restructuring proposals driven, in part, by larger schools wanting more autonomy _ including the ability to give athletes stipends _ will top the agenda.

“We’re not talking about pay for play,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said. “We are talking about the cost of education.”

But what, exactly, is a college education worth?

Using public and telephone records and social media, The Associated Press traced 90 players who were listed as seniors on the 1988 teams at four schools _ Michigan, SEC co-champion Auburn, Akron and Wake Forest. The 23 _ enough for a starting offense and defense _ who could be reached by phone were asked if they got their degrees, what role their educations have played in their lives and, looking back 25 years later, whether they think the tradeoff was worth it.

(One player is dead, and another five had names too common to be traced.)

The AP’s findings:

_ Each of the 23 had earned his diploma.

_ All said their educations have played pivotal roles in their lives.

_ Though almost all said players should receive increased stipends _ enough to get a pizza with friends or take their girlfriend out to dinner, not buy a new Escalade _ only two questioned whether the scholarship they got for playing football was a fair tradeoff.

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