-- PHOENIX -- Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and defensive end Michael Bennett both gave impassioned speeches Thursday about how student-athletes are unfairly maligned and how universities don't do enough for them.
"I think the NCAA is one of the biggest scams in America," Bennett said. "These kids put so much on the line. They [the NCAA] say, 'We give you a free degree.' That's like me owning a restaurant and saying, 'I'll give you a free burger.' It makes me so mad and irate. Universities need to do more for the student-[athletes].''
Sherman graduated with honors from Stanford, earning a degree in communications. But he feels the public doesn't understand how difficult it is for student-athletes.
"I don't think college athletes are given enough time to take advantage of the free education they're given," Sherman said. "It's frustrating because a lot of people get upset with student-athletes and say you're not focused on school and not taking advantage of the opportunity you're given.
"I would love for a regular student, for just one semester, to have a student-athlete schedule during the season and show me how you balance that. Show me how you would schedule your classes when you can't schedule classes for 2 to 6 o'clock on any given day.
"Show me how you're going to get all your work done when you get out [of practice and meetings] at 7:30 or so and have a test the next day and you're dead tired from practice and you still have to study and get the same work done."
Sherman said most regular students have it much easier than the college athletes.
"Most of these kids are done with class by 3 o'clock and you have the rest of the day to do what you please," Sherman said. "You may spend it studying and then you may go have coffee with friends.
"As a student-athlete, you don't have that kind of time. You wake up in the morning and have weights. Then you go to class. Then you might get a bite to eat, then you go to meetings and then you have practice. And you have to try to get all your school work done."
Both Sherman and Bennett emphasized the financial hardships some college athletes have.
"And people are upset that student-athletes need a little cash," Sherman said. "I tell you from experience that one time I had negative 40 bucks in my account. It was in the negative more times than positive. You have to make a decision whether you put gas in your car or get a meal.
"People say you get room and board and they pay for your education. But to [the school officials'] knowledge, you're there to play football. Those are the things coaches tell you every day. Luckily I was blessed to go to Stanford, a school primarily focused on academics. But as [former Stanford coach] Jim Harbaugh would attest, we were still there to play football."
Harbaugh left the San Francisco 49ers after this season to become the head coach at the University of Michigan.
"Of course, [Michigan] can afford to pay Jim Harbaugh $48 million because they don't have to pay any of the athletes,'' Bennett said. "If Nick Saban doesn't have those five-star recruits, can he still be who he is at Alabama?
"I think the NCAA should come up with a plan for college athletes to receive some of the money they bring into the schools. My school, Texas A&M, I think makes $50 million just on jersey sales. So I would say pay $60,000 [to student-athletes] for every year you stay in college. Keep that in a 401(k). After you graduate, hold that money until you are a certain age and then you get the money."
Bennett said college athletes aren't living the easy life that some people think.
"I think there are very few schools that actually care about the players," Bennett said. "Guys break their legs and they get the worst surgery they could possibly get by the worst doctors with the worst treatment."
Bennett also said he feels other students sometimes look down on athletes.
"They don't understand," Bennett said. "When I was in college, I was going to class and some student came up to me and said, 'I'm paying your tuition.' I said, 'You don't pay my damn tuition. My mom paid that when she worked two jobs and I woke up every morning at 6 a.m. and worked hard.' Student athletes don't get enough credit.''