Grocery bills across college athletics are set to increase, the result of a proposal aimed at beefing up an athlete’s access to food.
Provided this change makes it through all legislative stages of the NCAA — it would be a major upset if it does not — coaches in all sports beginning Aug. 1 of this year will be allowed to serve meals to their athletes in conjunction with practices and no longer just games or events.
Financially, the move figures to crunch money-conscious schools like the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University, whose proposed 2014-15 fiscal year budgets do not take into account additional chicken breasts or baked potatoes. More, there will be extra mouths to feed as non-scholarship athletes are being added to their school’s dime.
Toledo athletic director Mike O’Brien, who oversees a department of some 350 athletes, plans to discuss with his financial director increasing the budget for next year.
“Is there going to be a budget impact? Yes.” O’Brien said. “At this time it’s hard to know what the dollar amount will be depending on the sport. We will find a way to close that gap. Each of our sports through private fund-raising has a restricted account. Coaches can use those accounts to enhance their program. That’s one possibility.”
The rule change provides an athlete access to meals incidental to practice activities during the season and while an athlete is representing the institution in a noncompetitive event, like, for instance, a media session.
For many years athletes were granted only a pre or postcompetition meal. Those meals, plus something the NCAA calls an occasional meal to celebrate a big win or a birthday, are not deducted from an athlete’s student meal plan.
NCAA member schools in the coming weeks will vote on the proposal, which is expected to receive overwhelming support.
“It’s unofficially official,” said Jermaine Truax, who oversees Bowling Green’s compliance department.
There is a false assumption, one perpetuated by recent comments made by NCAA president Mark Emmert, that food will will be available to athletes around the clock. Emmert in an interview last week with ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike said “if UConn wants to feed Shabazz breakfast in bed every day they can.” He was referring to Connecticut basketball star Shabazz Napier, who lamented the current meal structure during the recent Final Four saying “there’s hungry nights where I’m not able to eat.” Unless a coach holds a 1 a.m. practice, hungry athletes are on their own to satisfy late night cravings.
Bowling Green athletic director Chris Kingston is in favor of the change, believing it is aimed at improving the welfare of a student athlete. He used an example of an athlete participating in a morning workout. He or she can eat before and after the workout and not have to leave the team’s facility or pull out a meal plan card.
“There’s a component to it that provides greater flexibility in how we provide nutrition to our athletes,” Kingston said.
Of the rising costs his department will absorb, Kingston said “We’re going to continue to take care of our athletes the best we can within our budget.”
BGSU’s football coach, Dino Babers, declined to comment for this story.
Toledo football coach Matt Campbell, whose team carries about 100 players in the fall, believes greater access to nutrition will enable athletes to train at an optimal level. Toledo’s renovated Larimer Athletic Complex, to open in late summer, comes with a player’s lounge equipped with toaster ovens and refrigerators. Campbell had planned to stock cupboards with NCAA-permitted snacks like nuts and fruit. Should he wish to do so, he can fill the freezer with T-bone steaks.
There is however a drawback to increased eating. Campbell, who in the past has consulted nutritionists to advise his team on nutrition, is thinking he might use them even more. The coach doesn’t want to see his quarterbacks looking like linemen.
“It has to be monitored,” Campbell said. “We have to do a really good job of providing our kids the best opportunity and not let it be a free for all.”