College athletes will be allowed to receive unlimited meals and snacks from their university under a rule passed today by the NCAA Legislative Council.
Until now, scholarship athletes have received three meals a day or a food stipend, according to the NCAA. The new rule, which also applies to walk-on athletes, comes as the NCAA faces significant legal pressure to allow college athletes to unionize or be paid.
Connecticut basketball star Shabazz Napier told the media at the Final Four last week there are nights he goes to bed “starving” because he cannot afford food. The NCAA proposal had been in the works well before last week. But Napier’s comments gained widespread traction, including a takedown by “The Daily Show” of the NCAA.
This change stems from the infamous old NCAA rule that stated, “An institution may provide fruit, nuts and bagels to a student-athlete at any time.” At one point, NCAA rules even banned cream cheese on bagels for athletes.
In February, Oklahoma self-reported to the NCAA three athletes for excessive pasta eating at a graduation banquet, The Oklahoman reported. Oklahoma had the players donate $3.83 each to charities of their choice. The NCAA said there there was no need to self-report because there are no NCAA rules regarding portion sizes of meals.
So what does unlimited food mean for athletes? A breakdown of the rule was explained on the NCAA Legislative Council’s agenda entering the meeting.
* Schools can provide a meal or snack incidental to participation outside the playing season. That includes during a school’s vacation period provided the athlete is required to remain on campus for organized practice or competition.
* Unlimited meals and snacks are allowed to athletes in the summer during required weight training, conditioning and skill-related instruction or film review as long as the meal/snack doesn’t replace a meal otherwise included in the summer scholarship.
* The university is not required to deduct the value of a meal or snack incidental to participation from the board allowance of an athlete. Walk-ons and partial scholarship athletes won’t be charged for these incidental meals or snacks, either.
* It’s up to the university to determine how to best meet additional nutritional needs of its athletes, such as another late-night meal. The NCAA agenda added: “However, the proposal was not designed to provide an avenue for institutions to circumvent institutional financial aid limitation.”
* Schools still have the choice to provide one training table meal per day to athletes during the academic year when regular dining facilities are open. The cost of the training table meal must be deducted from an athlete’s board allowance on scholarship. Partial scholarship athletes or walk-ons may purchase one training table meal per day.
* The NCAA said “in general” it’s not permissible for a school to provide a cash allowance instead of an incidental meal. If an athlete is participating in a practice or game, or representing the university off campus, “the institution may provide meals at its discretion from the time the student-athlete is required to report on call until the student-athlete returns to campus.”
In other proposals passed today, strength and conditioning coaches will be required to be certified from a nationally accredited certification body. Also, a school staff member certified in CPR, first aid and defibrillation must be present at all physical athletic activities that are counted by the NCAA.
Another proposal requires football players to rest for at least three hours between practices during the preseason. Film review and team meetings will be allowed during the period.
Also, the NCAA’s first-time penalty for testing positive for street drugs, including marijuana, will be reduced from a full season to half a season. These are the tests administered randomly by the NCAA during championships, not tests by schools, whose drug-testing policies vary greatly.
“Street drugs are not performance-enhancing in nature, and this change will encourage schools to provide student-athletes the necessary rehabilitation,” the NCAA said in a news release.
All of the actions must still be approved by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors on April 24.