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Linda Kenney Baden

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The NCAA and Feeding the Student Athlete

Posted: 11/28/11 01:47 PM ET

Does the NCAA cause student athletes to go hungry? Robert Woods is a star sophomore football receiver and a likely future All- American at USC. Yet he cannot afford to eat properly on the restricted stipend he receives to play at USC, a school smack in the middle of one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. Why? The answer is simple. The policy-makers of the NCAA, an organization in existence supposedly to protect the integrity and sanctity of college sports, fails to allow the student athlete to reap the benefits of all the money these athletes raise for universities, conferences, and for the NCAA. The NCAA touts themselves as a group founded in 1906 to "protect young people from the dangerous and exploitative athletics practices of the time."

But their current stance is more like the evil ruler who secretly pilfers the treasures of the kingdom. Under any other circumstances, any multimillionaire who watched his or her child go for days without eating properly or caused his or her child to grovel for free food, would be charged with child abuse. Under the current program, athletes are fed dinner only in season. They are constantly staying in shape and keeping their bodies at a high level of fitness because they have to be in shape all the time. Unlike other students, because of all the athletic requirements, they do not have the time to maintain outside jobs. During all other times, they have to fend for food for themselves. In the entertainment field parents who act as an agent representative for their child whose talents brought in millions of dollars because of television contracts, instead of putting the money in a trust account for the child, spent it on things including themselves, would be in the hoosegow for grand larceny. The NCAA is a parent -- in loco parentis -- and as such, they need to start acting as a responsible parent. Wake up America!

Despite having an empire that itself is devoid of independent scrutiny or oversight, the NCAA has failed to come up with any real modern solution besides allowing for some conference schools to potentially increase the aid to each athlete by $2000 a year. This is at a time that the big football conferences, the Bowl Games, and media contracts bring in multimillion dollar payoffs for everyone but those who are the backbone of all collegiate sports -- the young athlete. In any other venue, failure to allow the talent to reap the benefits of the contractual monies made because of their efforts -- here the student -- would be suspect. In many situations a powerful entity negotiating on a person's behalf would be required because of their fiduciary duty to protect the economic interests of those whom they have been entrusted to protect. Wake up America!

A recent expose in the Los Angeles Times by David Wharton revealed that Robert Woods, a major young athlete, no doubt with a sport athletes' metabolism, has to scramble to eat 5000 calories on a mere $5 dollars a day. This is all he has left from his restricted student scholarship, which prohibits him from getting benefits including food in the off-season from the school, any booster, or as a benefit from an entity tangentially associated with the school. One dinner a day is basically an unhealthy diet by any standards.

What does it cost to eat a healthy breakfast and lunch on a daily basis? A student athlete can barely eat at a fast food chain on this budget. Does any doctor feel that eating breakfast and lunch at such food emporiums is the correct diet for any youth in this country, let alone a high performance athlete? When my son and I went white water rafting on the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers in the north country years ago we were fed a diet of over 10,000 calories a day so that we maintained proper caloric intake because of both the cold and all the physical exertion. If a rafting company recognizes the need for a sensible diet, is it too much to ask that these young athletes get a responsible diet without it violating NCAA bylaws, guidelines, or rules? The least the NCAA could do is come up with a truly effective solution or program to feed the young people whom they themselves use to make money. Let's not stand on sanctity. These athletes are not permitted the time to make money by working after school like other students -- they must practice.

The NCAA should stop hiding behind legal rulings giving them god-like rights. Open your books NCAA so all can compare the treatment of your top echelon against the student athlete. Start by publicly posting the credit card bills of all your employees, the money spent on food for meetings, for entertainment, for reimbursement, refreshments and the like. Shall we give odds on whether those expenses would be more the $5 dollars for a single person? This openness would certainly wake America up.

The Division 1-A schools obviously are the ones who generate the major money from television contracts. It is true that schools like Miami, Ohio and Bowling Green, who may play during the week, may not get as many people in the stands watching them for a whole season as will attend one Saturday game from a Division 1A school. The Division 2 and 3 schools are lucky if they have 125 thousand people in the stands for a full playing season. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the hundred thousand plus people who would come to see Michigan, Ohio State, USC, and other SEC schools. Division 2 and 3 schools have legitimate concerns if the money disbursed to the student athlete has to come from their smaller generated revenue. They do not benefit from the enormous income collected as compared to any Division 1-A school. But this problem is solvable. Take the money from each of the conferences including the massive money reaped from the television contracts from The Big Ten, the Pac 12, the SEC and the like, and distribute a fund out of it to all the schools in all the conferences to increase a food stipend for all student athletes. Even the smaller Atlantic Coast Conference generated nearly 29 million dollars recently. Or if you don't have enough out of the coffers of smaller conferences, take the money from one big bowl game, an amount that could easily yield an astronomical 17 million dollars plus, take about 10 percent -- nearly $2 million let's say -- and put it in a food fund to distribute equally for all college sports athletes players. The top three teams in the country are currently in one conference, the SEC, the Southeastern Conference. At the recent LSU game, so many people were jammed into the stadium you couldn't get in if you were a sardine. That is an indication of the value of their television bowl marketability. Wake up America.

The long espoused ridiculous argument thrust forward by the NCAA that we provide a full education worth approximately $250,000 was an intelligent argument many years ago -- not today. The NCAA preaches this decades old outdated doctrine particularly regarding the BCS football program, the eight teams that go to the four major bowls: Orange, Fiesta, Sugar, and Rose. The reality is that mega-millions will be shared among the schools in each conference. This is besides all the other income from merchandising and additional marketing outlets. That doctrine that the NCAA lives by is so completely obsolete by the current reality it makes the NCAA argument absurd. This continued restriction of monies to student athletes is so imbalanced -- it borders on being immoral. It should be illegal. Given the present situation, the NCAA acronym should really stand for Not fair to College Athletes in America.


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