COLLEGE — 16 April 2014
Shabazz Napier Bamboozled the NCAA into Providing Unlimited Meals to Division I Athletes

The NCAA has been bamboozled. Hoodwinked, even.

During a recent press conference at AT&T Stadium in Dallas during the Final Four, UConn’s Shabazz Napier made headlines when he told reporters that he sometimes goes to bed “starving” because he doesn’t have food. That immediately and universally added more fuel to the they-need-to-pay-student-athletes fire.

Here is Napier’s direct quote:

“We as students athletes get utilized for what we do so well, and we’re definitely blessed to get a scholarship to our universities,” Napier said. “But at the end of the day, that doesn’t cover everything. We do have hungry nights that we don’t have enough money to get food in. Sometimes money is needed. I don’t think you should stretch it out to hundreds of thousands of dollars for playing, because a lot of times guys don’t know how to handle themselves with money.”

Over the years, I’ve softened on my stance of paying college athletes. Previously, I was against it, but now I feel as if there should be come compensation. What that should be is beyond me, but it’s not as elaborate as some are suggesting. But I digress.

Napier’s claim was very timely. He made that statement with the whole world watching and listening. Apparently, the NCAA was listening as well, because in a major announcement, Division I student-athletes can now enjoy unlimited meals and snacks. The new rule, however, cannot become official until an NCAA board of directors meeting on April 24. The magnitude of this cannot be minimized or overlooked.

But, Napier was probably stretching the truth when he sat up there in front of that microphone a few weeks ago. While I’m sure his checking account isn’t littered with commas, the likelihood of him going to bed starving is tough to believe. As we know, student-athletes on scholarship are given a free ride. That includes a meal plan. I don’t know what the situation is like at other institutions of higher learner, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that a meal plan at the University of Connecticut affords you the ability practically go grocery shopping at the various food spots on campus. I know because I’ve done it. And in doing so, it prevented me from going to bed starving. Granted, I graduated more than 10 years ago, but I’m willing to bet the principle is similar.

While at UConn there were some semesters where I did not have a work-study job, but never felt as if I was starving at nights because of the aforementioned reasons. In this scenario, that’s similar to a student-athlete in that they cannot have a job, but do have a meal plan. Now, what happens with them regarding food while on the road is an entirely different discussion. Believe me, I’m not trying to equate being a student to being a student-athlete whatsoever, but there are some parallels from which one can draw.

However, not having such a laser focus on what Napier said word-for-word, his overarching point of student-athletes being taken advantage of is more than valid and it’s great that the NCAA has taken heed. It’s just ironic that a misguided notion is what did the trick.

This development coupled with the news from August of last year, stating that the NCAA will no longer sell school-related items online (such as a jersey in a player’s likeness, even though their name isn’t on the back), is a sign of the NCAA caving right before our very eyes. These are two major paradigm shifts in an eight-month period and I have the feeling it’s just the beginning of what’s to come in very short order.

At the end of the day, Napier did what he had to do and said what he had to say. Can’t fault him for that. Bravo, Shabazz.

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Kevin Burke

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