Culbreath: NCAA votes to lift athlete food limitsWritten by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The NCAA came up with an interesting rule change this week. It had nothing to do with bowl games, or changes to the tournament, or Title IX. But it seemed to generate a whole lot of discussion.
Early this week, the association’s Legislative Council voted to remove any bans on teams feeding their players. As much as the school can afford, the players can eat. It seems like a ridiculous notion, but it actually has a whole lot of intrigue behind it.
First and foremost, the rule itself: It used to be that a school was limited to feeding its athletes three meals a day (or giving them a food stipend). Seems simple enough, but nothing is simple with the NCAA, as arguments raged over what constitutes a meal. From 2009-12, if a school provided bagels for its student-athletes, it couldn’t provide any cream cheese, jelly, peanut butter, etc. In 2013, Oklahoma self-reported a rules violation because three players “were provided pasta in excess of the permissible amount allowed.” While the NCAA did come back and say that wasn’t a violation, the fact that it could even be construed as one speaks volumes as to how asinine some of the NCAA rules can be.
Secondly, though, is the more far-reaching matter of relations between student-athletes, the universities and the NCAA. You can thank Shabazz Napier for bringing this one up. The UConn star was still in the afterglow of winning the NCAA Championship in men’s basketball when someone asked him about the conversation surrounding the compensation and/or unionization of student-athletes. He answered by saying that while he doesn’t feel like they need to be paid in the hundreds of thousands, he still goes to bed hungry because the stipends don’t cover enough.
Let’s be real: starving athletes aren’t an epidemic on college campuses. Particularly in the power conference schools, I’m sure they get enough. But the message was clear: when someone who just won a national title in the Jerry Dome (a monument to excess if I’ve ever seen one) says that they don’t get enough to eat healthy, there’s a real problem in the structure of college athletics, and most of that lies in the bylaws of the NCAA.
I suppose that’s what makes the talk of unionizing the players so interesting. My WSPD co-worker, Fred LeFebvre, talks about how the NCAA could make simple rules changes to avoid the mess of handling a players union. He’s not wrong, but I think the fact that the NCAA hasn’t made those adjustments is what’s forced the players’ hands into mobilizing. Now, despite the decision of the National Labor Relations Board that said the players could hold a vote, it doesn’t look like they’ll actually go through with it. I think they understand just as much as the NCAA does that a student-athlete union is a nuclear option that could muck up amateur athletics for years to come. But the threat has forced the NCAA’s hand to start coming to terms with the modern world. Today, bagels; tomorrow, maybe it’s bigger stipends.
I still don’t think it’s over. I was just telling someone my vision of the endgame: I think that within the next 25-40 years, athletic departments will eventually be spun off to become separate, but affiliated entities of universities. Scholarship partnerships would continue the student-athlete tradition, while the athletic programs take over the facilities, form their own budgets and are able to provide whatever they feel necessary while not jeopardizing the school it’s attached to. But that’s a long way off.
For now, just enjoy your seconds at the pasta buffet.
“Shaggy” Matt Culbreath is sports director at 1370 WSPD.
Tags: food stipend, Fred LeFebvre, Jerry Dome, Matt Culbreath, National Labor Relations Board, NCAA, Shabazz Napier, Shaggy Culbreath, student-athlete, student-athlete union, UConn, unionization, WSPD