The NCAA’s legislative council on Tuesday approved a resolution that would allow schools to provide unlimited meals and snacks to college athletes. The change comes just a week after University of Connecticut basketball star Shabazz Napier, the 2014 Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, told reporters at the Final Four that he sometimes goes to bed hungry because he does not have enough money for food.
“We as student athletes get utilized for what we do so well. We are definitely best to get a scholarship to our universities, but at the end of the day, that doesn’t cover everything. We do have hungry nights that we don’t have enough money to get food and sometimes money is needed,” Napier said before the Final Four began. “I think, you know, Northwestern has an idea, and we’ll see where it goes.”
“To some credit, you feel like you want something in return,” Napier continued, according to the Connecticut Mirror. “Like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I am starving. So something can change, something should change.”
Current NCAA rules stipulate that schools can provide athletes with three meals a day or an equivalent stipend that would pay for food. Schools are left to determine their own meal policies under those rules. Some athletes have said those rules often create problems — they often get out of practice or games too late to eat a campus diners or cafeterias, for instance. Dietitians groups have also challenged the NCAA in the past, saying that athletes at its colleges are undernourished given the amount of calories they burn while practicing and playing games.
The NCAA rule change is not final — the board of directors will have to approve it at an April 24 meeting — and as much as it seems like it, it is not a direct response to Napier’s comments at the Final Four. The NCAA has discussed such a rule change for months — it made small tweaks to its meal rules last year — and the Tuesday meeting where the rule was changed and other resolutions were approved was on the schedule before Napier’s comments caused a media firestorm. Giving Napier all the credit for this rule change wouldn’t be acknowledging the entire story.
Still, it’s easy to see that Napier’s words and the outcry they caused left the NCAA’s legislative council with little choice but to approve the rule change, even if they might have anyway. And those words have similarly left little doubt that the NCAA board of directors will approve the rule when it convenes next week, lest it risk another public relations nightmare. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that Napier’s words pushed the rule change across the finish line.
And even if Napier’s voice isn’t the primary reason behind the rule change, it is indicative of the power the voices of college athletes can have. Napier’s comments about going to bed hungry came in response to a question about the unionization efforts of Northwestern football players, who have argued that they should have a voice in the current college athletics system to address any number of issues where they feel the NCAA has fallen short. That includes concussions, scholarship protections, educational opportunities, and health care. Napier’s words gave the players a voice on a rule change the NCAA was already considering and one that won’t cost it or its school much money or pose a risk to its sacred ideals of amateurism. But it was that voice that thrust the issue into the public eye, showing that the voices of players can have power to cause change, especially on issues the NCAA is much more reluctant to address on its own.