A hometown pal of mine – high school/early college era 20 billion years ago – played women’s mid-major college basketball. A successful and winning program, but far from UConn/Texas/Scrooge McDuck money. I used to visit her on breaks and when I was about to leave, we’d go over to the university convenience store where athletes had money on cards.

She’d fill my car with groceries. Enough for me, and enough for my fraternity buddies to overstay their welcome in my room most nights. My 1999 Chevy Cavalier, filled with food. She told me there was no chance she could spend all of the money she had on the card and it shouldn’t go to waste.

This was women’s mid-major basketball in 2003. I thought about this when former UConn star Shabazz Napier made his “starving” comments during his team’s 2014 championship run. Maybe he didn’t know where the trough was?

So anyway, this was in the news:

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 9.16.50 PM

In defense of Napier and the young man quoted above (Robert Johnson from Indiana University), I think sometimes people use colorful, hyperbolic language trying to illustrate a point. I do all the time. I’ve always thought the comments on this topic were mostly related to hyperbole. Also, in defense of Napier, he made his comments in 2014 – before NCAA legislation allowed schools to be 24/7 diners for their student-athletes.

In reality, at least for football and basketball programs, there’s more food than can be eaten. Really, the bigger problem might be the amount of food that isn’t eaten and is thrown away. I traveled with Division I men’s and women’s teams for 10 seasons as well as 2 more seasons of full-time baseball travel: I gained weight every year but 2009-10. And I was the communications guy – last guy in line!

Consider the typical menu on a getaway day before a road game for a major college basketball program:

  • Following afternoon practice: food on the level of Chick-fil-a or Panera before getting on the bus to the airport
  • On the plane: some type of sandwich/chips/cookie combo
  • Wheels down, arrive at the hotel: time for dinner!

That’s 3 meals in about 6 hours, depending on the trip. On gameday, it’s breakfast and video scout (pet peeve: when people call it ‘film.’ Nobody uses film anymore) before shootaround. After shootaround, there’s lunch either at the hotel or some type of deli. Four hours before tip is when college basketball teams eat pregame meal (pasta, chicken, vegetables, etc).

(And if you’re a press box guy, you’re probably having a look at what the home team is serving!)

After the game, usually pizza. If you’re playing at Loyola Chicago, it’s Giordano’s. Which is so good it should be considered an impermissible benefit. Extra pizza from the trip home goes to the dorms with the players.

****

Is there more that can be done for student-athletes? Almost always yes. However, recent years have seen many positive additions by the membership to enhance the experience. The quality of life for players improves every year. Indiana and similar universities provide world-class experiences for athletes and almost certainly the men’s and women’s basketball players at the top 300 schools have infinitely better access to financial aid, food, healthcare, academic support, physical well-being and career development than their non-athlete classmates.

I could go on and on about how good the student-athlete experience is, but somewhere there’s a team having a meal and I’m gonna see if I can get in on it.

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