It was while Titus Toler was doing paperwork before the start of the University of Wisconsin football team’s fall camp Tuesday that a welcome bit of information came his way.

The safety learned UW has started paying athletes for maintaining academic eligibility and reaching graduation, with nearly $1,000 coming each year and up to $25,000 for completing a degree.

The payments fall under new NCAA rules allowing money to go to athletes for even a minimum level of academic success, up to $5,980 per school year. There’s no mandate for athletic departments to pay the money or to link any of it to graduation, but UW announced last week it was doing both.

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It was news to Toler but it was the right decision, he said — especially the part about waiting on the big payout.

“Instead of giving it all at once, I think it’s great that they wait to we’re a little more mature,” said Toler, a redshirt junior. “That’s a big lump sum of money. So hopefully we just handle it the right way when we’re done with what we’re doing here.”

It’s also an incentive to finish a degree, safety John Torchio said.

“That’s part of why we come here,” he said. “Obviously, we come here to play sports, but we’re coming to get a degree. So if you want the money, you’ve got to graduate, which I personally think is a good idea.”

UW said it is committing more than $3.8 million per year toward paying athletes for academics. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year the NCAA could continue to limit awards for academic or graduation achievement but said they couldn’t be lower than the cap on bonuses tied to athletic performance.

The NCAA allows schools to spend $5,980 per player per year for athletic awards such as rings, trophies and, in some cases, cash.

At UW, $980 of the $5,980 for academics will be paid to athletes who maintain their eligibility at the end of two semesters each school year. The other $5,000 goes into an account that pays out, up to $25,000, after graduation from UW.

Receiver Skyler Bell said the graduation money could be a good start to life after college — maybe toward a car or a down payment on a house.

“It’s just a little bit to keep you above ground, to make sure that, coming from Wisconsin, they make sure that they’ve done enough for you to make sure that you’re set moving on to the next part of your life,” Bell said.

Other schools could give all $5,980 a year just for being academically eligible, an approach that could hold appeal for recruits. That didn’t mesh with UW’s mission in promoting the pursuit of a degree for its athletes, athletic director Chris McIntosh said.

“I would hope every kid isn’t picking a school based off how much money they’re getting,” Bell said. “But nowadays, college football’s different. It’s a different landscape. It’s a different game.”

It’s different at UW now, too — not the priority placed on graduation but that there’s a financial component attached.

“(It’s a) pretty good barometer saying if you graduate that’s worth something,” coach Paul Chryst said. “That’s a good starting point.”

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Wisconsin football players weigh in on new academic bonus payments and their link to graduation | College

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