Mouths to Feed: What Shabazz and Jon Stewart Didn’t Mention

Guess where I am:  I get at least one meal a day provided for free, and most days, I get all three.  In fact, there are more than a dozen days when I’ll get FOUR meals a day. 

If I’d rather shop for myself instead of taking the three or four free meals, I can take $8 for breakfast, $10 for lunch, and $17 for dinner. Not “up to” that much–I get the cash.  

Plus, I get unlimited fruit, bagels, nuts, as well as sports drinks and energy bars whenever I want it.

Where am I?  A cruise ship? A business trip for some investment bank? An all-inclusive resort vacation?  

Nope. I’m on a college campus, and I’m a student athlete. 

Surprised? Perhaps you remember last week, when Shabazz Napier led UConn to the national title and then said, “There are hungry nights that I go to bed, and I’m starving.” Maybe he didn’t know that the $35 a day he’d been getting since Thursday was legal. 

Everyone likes to rip the NCAA, including Jon Stewart, who did a hilarious, if inaccurate, segment in support of hungry Shabazz last week, but rule 16.5.2 basically makes sure that no one goes to bed hungry, or even on a diet.

Schools can provide one traning table meal a day to student athletes during the academic year. Every day. Some of the larger, better funded programs bring in catered food after practice on a regular basis under this component of the rule.

When there’s a home game, athletes can receive unlimited meals, at the school’s discretion, starting the night before. Some schools, such as UNC, have chain restaurant meals waiting for the players after the games. Or, if they’d rather, the players can have $15 in cash for their post-game meal.

If the school is on vacation and the team has a home game, the school can either provide the $35 a day or they can provide up to FOUR meals a day for the players.

When the team is on the road, the players get their meals covered, from the time the team has to report for travel until the time the team returns to campus. Or they can take the $35.

And if the team has to practice on a day that the school is on vacation? You guessed it: All meals or $35. 

Sounds confusing, right? A player doesn’t know where his next free meal is coming from. Luckily, some schools, like Baylor, provide their athletes with a helpful flow chart

What does this mean? Well, we looked at the three Triangle area ACC teams to find out. 

UNC played its first exhibition game on November 1. The Tar Heels were eliminated from the NCAA tournament on March 23 and returned to campus the following day. By our count, over those 144 days, there were at most 31 days when a player was not fed a meal at night. (In other words, they could have “gone to bed hungry”.)  They still had a meal those days, mind you, as well as unlimited fruit, nuts and bagels (although, as Jay Bilas likes to point out, cream cheese can’t be provided.) They also got carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks, energy bars, and vitamin and mineral supplements provided. 

For 103 of the 144 days, not only wasn’t anyone on the team going to bed hungry, their weight-loss diets were in serious jeopardy. There were never more than four days in a row when players didn’t have dinner provided. 

But there’s more. You know how players need to get a stipend, so they can go out for pizza? There were approximately 34 days when Carolina traveled for games or tournaments. There were also 45 days when UNC was on Fall Break, Thanksgiving Break, Holiday Break, MLK Day Break, and Spring Break, all of which came after basketball practice started for the year. That’s 79 days when players could have taken $35 in meal money,

Don’t do the multiplication yet, because there were also 19 home games, when players could take the $15 for a postgame meal instead of taking the postgame meal.

That’s a total of $3,050 in meal money.

Academic and basketball schedules differ from school to school, but the bottom line is about the same. Duke had the most days when a player could have gone to bed starving. Dinner wasn’t guaranteed on 49 days of the 147 day season. That includes a grueling 11-day span between December 4 and December 14 when the coaches decided not to play a game during final exams. That means the team had to make due on one meal, plus fruit, nuts and granola bars. 

On the bright side, Duke had 54 days when the school was on break and another 41 travel days. Add in the 19 home games and maybe the players could have saved some of their $3,910 in meal money to cover the lean period during exams. 

NC State players had 46 hungry nights during the 146 day season, and could have made $2,905 in meal money. 

That’s the lowest amount in the league, and yet, if they spent it all at Little Caesars, they could get 580 pizzas and have enough left over for an order of bread sticks. That should tide them over.