Ronald Reagan is widely credited with being the voice that brought down the Iron Curtain when he challenged Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 to “tear down this wall”. Shabazz Napier, however, might one day be known as the voice that solved the hunger crisis in college sports… as well as the man who pushed the NCAA further toward a professional paradigm.
Napier, of college basketball’s recently crowned national champion, the University of Connecticut Huskies, caused a stir less than two weeks ago by claiming he goes hungry on his campus every night, even though his university, and the NCAA, make millions of dollars on his game every day.
At issue was an archaic NCAA regulation that limited scholarship athletes to one training table meal per day. Additional between meal snacks were either highly regulated, or in most cases, disallowed, and threatened with possible sanction. Idiotic to everyone, except the tone deaf NCAA, is the idea that college sports can earn unlimited cash from television rights, merchandising and gate receipts, and even concessions, yet a college basketball player sneaking a donut back to his dorm room is committing a violation.
Shabazz Napier’s well-timed post-game comments, before the backdrop of a national championship, couldn’t have come at a worse time for the NCAA. Soon enough the organization will be forced into a paradigm that compensates players for services so it is probably best to tread carefully from this point forward.
A recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board authorizing the Northwestern University football team to form a union concerns college sports’ governing body greatly. Now is not the time to fuel dissent with a streak of bad publicity from poor and hungry athletes forced to beg for food on national television.
In the wake of Napier’s comments, the NCAA’s Legislative Council voted this week to approve unlimited meals, not only for scholarship athletes, but for ALL athletes; non-scholarship and walk-ons alike. While the announcement was put forth as a common sense measure to right a long-running wrong, the reasoning behind the move should not be overlooked.
Likewise, the symbolism of the decision shouldn’t be underestimated.
College sports is an industry that creates and processes billions of dollars every year, yet is endowed with the luxury of free performance labor. The current paradigm was not the original intent of the NCAA at its inception. To the contrary, it’s purpose was to monitor, protect and promote the interest of student athletes.
An organization whose current core values include helping college athletes balance academic, social and athletic experiences has blundered by enriching itself while, by its own admission, keeping its labor pool poor and hungry. Had the NCAA proactively sought to remedy such ridiculous restrictions on something as simple as daily meals for it’s workers, the issue of free labor might have remained further in the background a while longer.
Shabazz Napier has now put a face on these issues. More importantly he has given them a voice. What happens next could drastically change the structure of the NCAA forever.
Thanks for reading! “Testiclees” is a freelance writer, based in Seattle, who lives out his real-life under the fictitious name of Scott Gentry. Readers can view his blog at testeeawards.wordpress.com, interact with him @testeeawards on Twitter, email at [email protected] or “like” on Facebook. Give us a follow while you’re at it – @LastWordOnSport, and “Like” our Facebook page!
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