The NCAA legislative council approved Tuesday the removal of rules limiting Division I member schools as to what and how often they can feed student-athletes, satisfying sports nutritionists who had long lobbied for such action. Still, the decision caught Dave Ellis, a past president of the Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietitians Association, by surprise. He feels the NCAA was likely swayed by University of Connecticut men's basketball player Shabazz Napier's oft-quoted admission earlier this month that he and his teammates frequently experience "hungry nights."
"The NCAA needs a 'W' on the student-athlete welfare front," Ellis told AB via e-mail Tuesday night. "Maybe we had a little influence, too. It's all good. A historic day for fueling."
The question remains as to what schools will do with this new feeding freedom, which still must gain NCAA board of directors approval April 24. Those athletic departments with sufficient resources will certainly take advantage of one more means to gain a competitive edge — or at least keep pace — with rival schools in recruiting and on the field. "We do need to see if the ADs follow through," Ellis says, cautioning that the new ruling "could get pushback from member institutions."
Reached for further comment today, Ellis adds that the ruling has the potential to draw several athletics administrators (beyond registered dietitians, if a given school even has one) closer to the training table — from marketers seeking cost-efficiencies from vendors to development officers linking donations to expanded food supplies. "Where there is no Sports RD, you simply have overworked people saying, 'Who is going to manage?' At financially overstretched schools, you have people saying, 'How are we going to pay?' " Ellis says. "At schools where you have a Sports RD, they are saying, 'Let's get started and here is a first step. Here is how we are going to get more for our money, and here are our priorities over the next three years.' "
Regardless of their given circumstances, all athletic departments should be thinking along the same lines, according to Ellis. " 'Longterm, here is what we are going to do out of our own dining hall so we can better meet the needs of our athletes who compete and eat on weekends and holidays and during late hours,' " he says. "It becomes a simple exercise when someone in athletics shows some vision and leadership on a fundamental underpinning of student-athlete welfare versus flinching like the sky if falling."