January 30, 2023
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The NCAA Yet to Break, Bends

According to Newton’s first law of motion, an object at rest stays at rest until acted upon by an external force.  In the case of the NCAA, an institution known for its immobility, the external pressure seems to have finally forced some movement.

On Tuesday, the institution’s legislative council decided that scholarship and walk-on athletes could receive unlimited meals and snacks in “an effort to meet the nutritional needs of all student-athletes.

One of the most emblematic features of the NCAA’s petty and contradictory reign, the previous restriction allowed schools to only provide three meals per day or an equivalent stipend to players with scholarships.

The most quintessential example of the NCAA micromanaging the player benefits (already minuscule compared to the profits they generate), the NCAA had strict rules stating school could provide bagels to athletes as snacks, but not bagel spreads.  Fortunately, this rule was relaxed last year and now student-athletes – the base of a billion dollar industry – may enjoy the lavishness of bagels and cream cheese.  But no lox, you moochers!

The effects of the previous rule led to somewhat laughable occurrences, like the University of Oklahoma self-reporting three football players who received impermissibly excessive pasta at a graduation banquet.  Though no official NCAA rules were violated, the players had to donate the value of the excess pasta they consumed ($3.83) to charity in order to have their eligibility reinstated.

The decisive push that forced the hand of the NCAA on this issue was likely Shabazz Napier’s opportunistic – and less laughable – statements – just before the UConn Huskies went on to win the college men’s basketball championship – that he and his teammates had “hungry nights.”

Napier hasn’t been the only one to speak out; pressure on the NCAA and challenges to its model of amateurism has increased in the last few years in the form of lawsuits and public criticism.

The NCAA council also approved changes reducing the penalty for a first positive drug test, requiring football players a three-hour break between preseason practices and requiring a CPR and first aid certified school staff member to be present at all athletic activities.

The recent National Labor Relations Board decision allowing Northwestern University football players to unionize last month was a landmark win for player advocates.  Relaxing these types of player benefit rules would be exactly the type of rights player unions would negotiate for.

While the NCAA still has a long way to go to appease most of its critics, these small changes show its leaders may have realized that it’s probably better to compromise, than to crumble.