All the free gear and coaching lessons in the world can't help you when you're hungry. Shabazz Napier is one of the biggest stars on a college basketball team in the national championship game, yet he claims there have been nights where he's "starving" because he doesn't have money to buy food.
Speaking with reporters in March, the UConn senior point guard said that while college athletes shouldn't be receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars, they do deserve some sort of monetary compensation. Napier added that sometimes he has a hard time finding enough money to eat and that it affects his preparation ahead of the Huskies' games.
The comments were made after the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago ruled that Northwestern football players could unionize. This potentially opens a Pandora's box in college athletics regarding student-athletes and their standing as unpaid amateurs rather than employees of the university.
Connecticut may soon be facing the same kind of problem, per CNN's Sara Ganim:
State Rep. Matthew Lesser and other state lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow athletes at the University of Connecticut to unionize, Lesser said. Unlike at Northwestern, a private institution governed by the National Labor Relations Board, Connecticut law governs whether employees at a public institution can unionize.
"He says he's going to bed hungry at a time when millions of dollars are being made off of him. It's obscene," Lesser said. "This isn't a Connecticut problem. This is an NCAA problem, and I want to make sure we're putting pressure on them to treat athletes well."
The idea of paying college athletes is one of the most contentious issues in sports at the moment, especially after Taylor Branch's article in the October 2011 issue of The Atlantic.
Opponents argue that college athletes receive a free education, along with tutelage from some of the best coaches in the world. Plus, they're getting free shoes, sweatshirts, shooting shirts, etc.
Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and Michigan State's Tom Izzo have both gone on record decrying the idea of paying college athletes. Worth noting: Boeheim and Izzo will make $1,818,661 and $3,893,954, respectively, in 2014, according to USA Today.
Proponents of paying college athletes argue that there are plenty of cases just like Napier's out there. Scholarships and stipends don't cover all of a student-athlete's expenses, and those athletes aren't living like kings, despite helping to bring millions of dollars to their respective schools.
No matter which side of the fence you're on, it's clear that a seismic shift is occurring in college sports. Sooner or later, it seems like the athletes will be paid. The devil will be in the details.
For Napier, hunger may not be a problem much longer. Should the Huskies win the national title on Monday night, he likely won't have to buy another meal in the state of Connecticut ever again.