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Athletes’ Claims of Going Hungry Cannot Be Dismissed Generally

University of Connecticut basketball guard Shabazz Napier says sometimes there’s “hungry nights that we don’t have enough money to get food.”

But all students have “unlimited access” to resident dining units that offer “all-you-care-to-eat.”

This is what a full scholarship student-athlete can receive in terms of food:

  • 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).

On top of all that, there are occasional meals, committee meals, not to mention all the free food which is used as the basic currency to get college students to do just about anything. And in addition to their athletic scholarships, some athletes are on other forms of aid, most notably the Pell Grant.

Despite all that some athletes do go to sleep hungry sometimes and power conference schools are pushing to provide unlimited food to athletes. An outside observer asking why is completely fair.

In many cases, the athlete is at least partially responsible. Sometimes they cannot be faulted, like those who send their Pell Grants home. Others make understandable budgeting mistakes, especially when they move off-campus and start getting one big stipend check each month instead of having money set aside in a meal plan. And some athletes simply squander it, buying meals for friends or spending their room and board stipend on things other than room and board.

But sometimes the math does not add up or at least it is unacceptably tight. This is especially true at universities which primarily have al a carte food courts rather than all-you-can-eat buffets. Combine expensive food with a very large calorie need and an athlete’s margin for error in budgeting can get very small very fast. All of the ways institutions can close that gap are “at the institution’s discretion.” Not every team gets the maximum per diem, the biggest training table, or every extra meal possible.

UConn’s unlimited dining hall access and Napier’s place on a national title-contending revenue-generating team at an FBS institution raise doubts about his claim. But that cannot be used to dismiss the claim generally. Student-athletes can and sometimes do burn through an entire meal plan too quickly. Some institutions do not do everything they could to get more food for their athletes. Even if it only happens rarely, that does nothing to refute the argument that athletes should never even be close to going to sleep hungry in Division I.

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