What Athletes Will Get Under the NCAA’s New Food Rules

On Tuesday, the NCAA Legislative Council adopted Proposal 2013–31-B, which has the following intent:

To specify that an institution may provide meals and snacks to student-athletes as a benefit incidental to participation in intercollegiate athletics.

2013–31-B still needs to be approved by the Board of Directors and make it through the override period. The Board of Directors will be a formality but the override period might be closer. Chances are though that starting on August 1, institutions will have few restrictions on providing food to all athletes on top of what scholarship athletes receive as part of their financial aid.

This is not the first food-related proposal the NCAA has adopted this year. In January, 2013–28 was passed, which allows institutions to include any meal plan available to all students as part of a scholarship, not one which tops out at three meals per day. As a result of these two proposals, the food a full scholarship athlete can receive has changed from this:

  • Meal plan that includes three meals per day;
  • One training table meal per day, which comes out of the scholarship;
  • Food provided at the institution’s discretion starting with dinner the night before a home game, plus an extra meal after the game;
  • Either food provided at the institution’s discretion or per diem for three meals per day on a road trip, plus a pre- or postgame meal;
  • Three meals per day or per diem when athletes are required to remain on campus during vacation periods, plus an additional meal each day;
  • Energy bars and other carbohydrate boosters; and
  • Fruits, nuts and bagels (now with spreads),

To this (changes emphasized):

  • Any meal plan available to all students;
  • One training table meal per day, which comes out of the scholarship;
  • Food provided at the institution’s discretion starting with dinner the night before a home game, plus an extra meal after the game;
  • Either food provided at the institution’s discretion or per diem for three meals per day on a road trip, plus a pre- or postgame meal;
  • Three meals per day or per diem when athletes are required to remain on campus during vacation periods;
  • Additional meals at the institution’s discretion to meet nutritional needs;
  • Nutritional supplements including energy bars and carbohydrate boosters; and
  • Any type of snack.

In practice what does this mean?

In the short term I doubt many athletes will see a lot more food all the time. Snacks available might expand beyond fruits, nuts and bagels. Athletes who are hungry late at night will be able to call a coach or noncoaching staff member and get a meal when normal facilities are closed. Instead the approach will be to provide more food at the time athletes need it the most and when an extra meal has the biggest impact on performance.

At the start of a season or during vacation periods when training is most intense is where the most additional food will be provided. An athlete who is on a meal plan designed for a 2,500 or 3,000 calorie/day diet who needs two-three times that might get four or five meals per day between their meal plan, per diem, and extra meals provided by the athletic department. Football is the best example. This is a theoretical schedule of activities and meals for a football player during preseason practice:

  • 6:00–7:00 AM – Wake up, first breakfast (per diem)
  • 7:00–8:00 AM – Morning weights
  • 8:00–9:00 AM – Second breakfast (provided by athletic department)
  • 9:00–10:00 AM – Film study
  • 10:00–12:00 PM – Free Time
  • 12:00–1:00 PM – Lunch (per diem)
  • 1:00–2:30 PM – Position meetings
  • 2:30–5:30 PM – Practice
  • 5:30–6:30 PM – First dinner (provided by athletic department)
  • 6:30–7:30 PM – Film study
  • 7:30–8:30 PM – Second dinner (per diem)

This is one more meal that the previous rule for in-season practice during a vacation period that allowed institutions to provide three meals or per diem plus one extra meal (no per diem option) each day. In this scenario, the institution provides per diem when the athletes might not be around (early breakfast, lunch after free time, late dinner) and extra meals when the athletes are required to be at the facility.

A basketball team starting preseason practice in October might do things a little differently:

  • 6:00–7:00 AM – Weights and conditioning
  • 7:00–8:00 AM – Breakfast (training table, comes out of meal plan/board stipend)
  • 8:00–11:00 AM – Classes and studying
  • 11:00–12:00 PM – Lunch (meal plan/board stipend)
  • 12:00–2:00 PM – Classes and studying
  • 2:00–5:00 PM – Practice
  • 5:00–6:00 PM – Dinner (provided by athletic department)
  • 6:00–8:00 PM – Studying and tutoring
  • 8:00–9:00 PM – Second dinner (meal plan/board stipend)

Again, this includes one additional meal vs. the old rule, the first dinner after practice. On a day off, that meal might not be provided. In both cases throughout the day athletes will have access to snacks like fruit, bagels, energy bars, and drinks like Gatorade or Muscle Milk. It will not be an all-hours, open buffet; meals will be targeted at certain points like right after practice. And rather than celebrity chefs, these meals will be put together by dietitians and nutritionists since these will be the only times athletic departments can guarantee athletes are not eating junk food.

The other guarantee is that despite the NCAA’s instance that these meals are not designed to replace an athlete’s board scholarship, they will do just that. A lot of that will be because of the actions of the athlete. Our fictional basketball player might try to go without the second dinner, essentially pocketing that portion of their board stipend if they live off-campus. The football player may try to grab a bagel before weights and go without the later dinner as well. That will net him two meals worth of per diem, which is normally somewhere between $45 and $75 per day. That does not sound like much but it adds up over the course of a basketball season or even three weeks of preseason camp. More universities might even give per diem rather than providing actual meals for the three regular meals during vacation periods, knowing they still have the ability to make sure athletes are getting something to eat.

This is not the end of NCAA food reform though, and it seems likely that eventually all meals will be provided and funded by the athletic department for all athletes, including walk-ons. Books seem like the first element of a scholarship that will be removed, but board will not be far behind. It will not affect football, basketball, or other headcount sports but the board allowance might stay in the scholarship calculation, allowing equivalency sports to spread that money around to more athletes. For schools that can afford it, this would be one way to increase scholarship limits in some sports without actually increasing them.

Posted on by John Infante
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