IN MY OPINION

David J. Neal: NCAA ruling on meals is really food for thought

 

dneal@MiamiHerald.com

Brother, can you spare a dime? Because Daddy Coach needs a new tray of hamburgers.

The NCAA Legislative Council’s pronouncement Tuesday that Division I/Football Bowl Subdivision college athletes can receive “unlimited meals and snacks in conjunction with their athletics participation” told athletic departments living on thin margins, “You’re going to have to sell more apples to bring home the bacon.”

Allegedly, the NCAA was moving in this direction before University of Connecticut guard and Final Four Most Outstanding Player Shabazz Napier told national media at college basketball’s grand showcase he sometimes went to bed “starving.” Coincidence that in the ensuing reaction, the NCAA pushed this new outlook to the front of the line and quickly publicized it?

Of course not. The NCAA didn’t want to issue a statement saying, “Looking at the well-fed members of the UConn football team and national championship women’s basketball team, we’re not exactly sure how Mr. Napier went to bed starving unless his meal money went to pleasures other than the gastronomic. Also, at a school that collects national basketball titles, there are plenty of friendly fans and students willing to help a Shabazz out. Also, Mr. Napier clearly didn’t learn the bargain shopping and cooking skills that get many a poor student through years of low funds and little sleep.”

When you spend decades making your greatest profits off athletes who coaches all but discourage from getting a real college education, you’re imprisoned by the glass house from calling “balderdash!”

Anyway, this ruling didn’t just cover the stomachs of basketball and football players. “Division I athletes.” That covers 32 potential men’s and women’s teams of athletes, if you consider the heavy crossover between indoor, outdoor track and field and cross-country. That will soon be 33 when sand volleyball gains full status.

Few schools field teams in every sport. But whether you’re Stanford, with 27 teams, or FAU, which fields teams in 17 sports, or FIU, which fields 14, the NCAA just shot your food costs into the air. Where it will land, you know not where.

Look at the legs on the athletes in baseball, softball, men’s and women’s volleyball. You don’t build those with squats and jumps fueled by salad. And you want to give your nearby bodega owner a feel-good Friday, tell him a pile of swimmers or water polo players just moved into the area. Those folks burn calories like Terrell Owens burns bridges. Swim practices turned my daughter into Joey Chestnut at dinnertime. A woman told me last year she would come home to find her teen daughter’s swim pal, chair pulled up to the open refrigerator, fork in hand, pounding food.

These are the young folks who know they’re not getting paid, but now will want to get fed and fed well. It’s cheaper to keep him or her on campus, on a meal plan. But almost everybody eventually gets sick of on-campus food, if not the restrictions of on-campus life.

This can become a factor in recruiting. The FIUs, FAUs, Middle Tennessee States and Virginia Commonwealths of college sports can’t tell a recruit they can’t compete at chow time. They’re already trying to overcome 17 other shortcomings and perceived shortcomings in recruiting.

As a person who worked in the operations department of a Division I football program said to me, it’s easier to get people to shed money when their names wind up on buildings, stadiums or parts of them. Getting them to donate for another training table nobody sees or discretely set athlete cafeteria isn’t as easy.

Maybe more corporate partnerships will emerge, i.e. Colorado State or University of Denver with the Chipotle Canteen set up near campus for postgame meals.

You hate to think some schools will use the increase in expenses as an excuse to chop programs. You’d like to think that high-ranking administrators would take a pay cut before going to the guillotine.

Then we wouldn’t be living in the current world of college athletics, would we?

Read more David J. Neal stories from the Miami Herald

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