The NCAA’s Legislative Council approved a rule change today that will allow Division I athletes “unlimited meals and snacks in conjunction with their participation.” The change takes place effective August 1 and will be a supplement to the standard meal plans that athletes already receive. Within hours of UConn’s national championship victory last Monday night, star senior guard Shabazz Napier said he often went to bed hungry and he’s not the only high profile college athlete to say so, and juxtaposed to the evermore lavish and commerically-drenched spectacle that is the NCAA tournament, caused college athletics another embarrassing round of bad publicity.
The NCAA announced other new rules as well, including a longer break time for football players during preseason camps.
The immediate impetus for these changes would appear to be the looming threat of unionization is terrifying the NCAA. The announced reforms today are, in the grand scheme of things, trivial fixes. But there is mounting pressure on multiple legal fronts. As I wrote last week, the mere prospect of unionization will induce changes, since the member schools no longer have *all* the leverage in their dealings with the players. The Northwestern vote next Friday remains very significant. Even if the players vote not to unionize, though, the NCAA will remain on the defensive. Today’s changes are small potatoes, but they are nevertheless the actions of an increasingly desperate enterprise.