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Home / NCAA food deregulation carries questions for schools, Iowa
IOWA CITY - Few cases of NCAA bureaucracy were more derided than what the organization determined was a meal and a snack.
'One of the examples (NCAA President Mark Emmert) used was a snack. You're permitted a bagel - that is a snack,” Wisconsin Athletics Director Barry Alvarez said. 'But a bagel with cream cheese is considered a meal. That's how trivial some of the rules were.”
The NCAA has loosened its food grip and the legislative council voted in mid-April to approve unlimited meals and snacks to student-athletes. Unless member schools initiate a rule override - which is unlikely with autonomy for larger conferences almost a cinch - the legislation goes into effect Aug. 1.
But the ruling was ambiguous, and athletics departments still are looking for direction from the NCAA.
'What the legislation says is that you can provide meals incidental to their participation,” said Lyla Clerry, Iowa's associate athletics director for compliance. 'It doesn't take away from their board scholarship or their meal plans. You can't provide cash to them, just the actual food.
'Where we're still now is, how does that affect training table? What exactly are the parameters to the meals incidental to participation? Those questions still haven't been answered by the NCAA. They're still working through that interpretively.”
Currently, athletes receive unlimited snacks and one training table meal per day. The other two meals come from their scholarship money. If they live in the dorms, it's from their meal plan. If they live off campus, they get money to cover food expenses.
Some athletes see it as too little, particularly when the NCAA, some conferences and dozens of major schools are making millions off their prowess. The Big Ten earned more than $312 million in fiscal 2013, according to their federal tax return. BTN, of which the league owns 49 percent, just secured deals with Time Warner Cable and Cablevision to secure penetration into the New York market, according to the Newark Star-Ledger. Coaches make millions, and some athletes see the correlation.
Before his team played Iowa State at Madison Square Garden, Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier told reporters, 'there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I'm starving.”
Purdue Athletics Director Morgan Burke is a strong advocate for providing more food and stipends to athletes. But he bristled when discussing Napier's comments.
'The Connecticut young man who said he wasn't eating ... I want to know how he's spending his board check,” Burke said. 'I've been enough training tables and other meals where the amount of food that gets wasted makes me sick to my stomach. But it's emblematic of a bigger issue. It creates a sound bite to get people's attention.
'But the reality is, the underlying issue is, it's fundamentally fair and it should be done. So we'd better find the money. We find the money for lots of other things so we'd better find the money for this.”
At Iowa, training tables are regimented by sport. During the season, Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff said players receive training table Monday and Friday mornings and then after practices Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The school pays for all meals on trips or if they stay off campus, such as the hotel the night before a game.
With the new rules, schools can supplement the athlete's current meal plan with other meals. But how that's defined is still sketchy.
'Right now the only thing they've said is it doesn't replace a meal plan,” Clerry said. 'It doesn't necessarily replace a training table. It's just meals provided to the students to provide them the additional nutritional supplements to meet their needs in addition to their meal plan.
'It's not a breakfast, lunch or dinner so some of the questions (are) is there a time frame that it would need to be in? For example a late-night meal. They've said there's not a limit to how many meals it can be in a day. Can it be 24/7? We still don't know.”
Iowa and other schools are considering building a separate training table facility. One of the possibilities at Iowa is the current football complex, which will be vacated in August.
Food also could have recruiting implications. One school could offer more food, better food or specific food, such as Maryland with crabcakes, Iowa with pork or Wisconsin with cheddar curds.
'As much as you want,” Alvarez joked.
'Obviously that's not the intent, but you never know,” Clerry said.
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