Darren Rovell got the result right in explaining that Oregon State’s victory meal of In-N-Out is not an NCAA violation, but used the wrong bylaw to get there:
There is no limit on the value of a postgame meal or any meal surrounding competition, which falls under an “occasional meal,” according to NCAA bylaws. In fact, it’s well-known that some schools spend north of $60 a player on a big Friday night meal.
Meals surrounding competition are not occasional meals. They are in the aptly named “Meals in Conjunction with Away-from Home Competition” bylaw:
(3) Meals in Conjunction With Away-from-Home Competition. An institution may provide meals to student-athletes in conjunction with away-from-home competition pursuant to one of the following options:
(i) All student-athletes are permitted to receive a pregame or postgame meal as a benefit incidental to participation in addition to regular meals (or meal allowances per Bylaw 126.96.36.199.3). An institution, at its discretion, may provide cash, not to exceed $15, in lieu of a postgame meal; or (Revised: 5/9/06, 4/24/08 effective 8/1/08)
(ii) All student-athletes are permitted to receive meals at the institution’s discretion from the time the team is required to report on call for team travel until the team returns to campus. If a student-athlete does not use team travel to return to campus, he or she may receive meals at the institution’s discretion up to the point he or she is released from team-related activities by the appropriate institutional authority. An institution shall not provide cash to student-athletes in lieu of meals under this option before their release. An institution may provide a meal or cash, (not to exceed $15), but not both, to a student-athlete at the time of his or her release by the institutional authority, regardless of whether he or she uses team travel to return to campus.
Boiling that down, it means teams have one of two options to feed players when traveling:
- 1. Provide players three meals a day during the trip, some of which could be through per diem, plus a fourth meal on the day of competition.
- 2. Provide players unlimited food throughout the meal, but no per diem except to eat when they are released following their arrival back on campus.
So the NCAA would permit a team to check into a hotel next to an In-N-Out and allow the university to pay for the players to eat there as much as they want during the stay. More often, football teams set up buffets at the hotel so players can eat their fill during the trip.
The NCAA does not define how often occasional is, but many conferences have. The average is about once a month or so. So teams only use the occasional meal bylaw when there is no other option since it is so limited.