Unlimited Meals for NCAA Athletes Is Long Overdue

Ben KerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterApril 16, 2014

Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier (13) passes around Kentucky center Dakari Johnson (44) to center Amida Brimah (35) as guard James Young (1) helps during the first half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, pool)
Chris Steppig

On the same day that Dominos Pizza revealed perhaps the most "'Merica" thing ever, a pizza with a fried chicken crust, the NCAA revealed the second-most "'Merica" thing ever: a rule allowing athletes to have all the food they could eat. 

Coincidence? Yes, but both items are nevertheless dripping with patriotism. 

Specifically, the NCAA Legislative Council voted that "athletes, walk-ons and those on scholarship, can receive unlimited meals and snacks in conjunction with their athletics participation. Previously, student athletes received three meals a day or a food stipend." (H/T USA Today Sports

Other proposals in conjunction with the bottomless buffet rule were made as well, but none garnered nearly as much attention. That is, without a doubt, a result of UConn basketball player Shabazz Napier telling media during the men's Final Four that he often became "starving" because he couldn't afford food beyond meal plans. (H/T Sara Ganim, CNN

Consequently, the proposal was largely, and inaccurately, credited to Napier when in fact it had been in the works for some time. 

The proposal, titled 2013–31-B, will go to the NCAA Division I Board of Directors on April 24 and, if passed, will become effective Aug. 1. It should be passed. In fact, it should have been passed a long time ago. 

While jokes about happy linemen and former Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen, he of the 320-pound physique, were in abundance, feeding athletes remains a part of a bigger issue. 

Players don't have normal diets. The strenuous activity they participate in daily requires more calories. Yes, athletes have been fed more often than the standard three meals a day, but sometimes the when and the how much don't add up. 

The simple argument of "they already get a free meal plan" doesn't cut it. John Infante of athleticscholarships.com explains: 

Sometimes the math does not add up, or at least it is unacceptably tight. This is especially true at universities which primarily have a la carte food courts rather than all-you-can-eat buffets. Combine expensive food with a very large calorie need and an athlete’s margin for error in budgeting can get very small very fast. All of the ways institutions can close that gap are “at the institution’s discretion.” Not every team gets the maximum per diem, the biggest training table, or every extra meal possible.

By deregulating the amount of food athletes have access to, schools can take better care of them—or, at least they can if they really want to. Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated takes a compelling recruiting angle to the subject ("Would LSU lock down Emeril Lagasse?"). 

What's more is that 2013-31-B allows for unlimited meals year-round, even in "voluntary" summer months. It also applies to walk-on athletes. Still, unlimited meals and snacks wouldn't mean anything if campus dining halls close at, say, 9 p.m., and an athlete is hungry at 9:30. 

Unintentionally, the proposal also brings up an interesting sub-topic about cost of attendance. If athletes require more food, should that not be taken into consideration when calculating that number? If anything, it would provide ammunition to the argument that the full cost of attendance is a bigger gap than most realize. 

While the unlimited food proposal is a step in the right direction, don't expect it to satisfy union pushes or other demands by student-athletes. Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com explains

Notice how the College Athletes Players Association, which spearheads the Northwestern union push, isn't asking for more food.

Enhanced medical coverage and brain trauma prevention for current and former players top the list.

The difficulty of passing NCAA legislation lies in the sheer number of members, meaning the ability to override or table a proposal is a strong possibility. That said, the only way the NCAA and its membership will stop something like a unionization push is if it begins to meet certain athlete demands.

Though it wasn't on the unionization platform, deregulating food access is a start.


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.