Will Work for Food, Whether They Like It or Not

You just won the NCAA Division I men’s basketball national championship. What are you going to do next? Beg for food, apparently.

At least that’s what University of Connecticut star player and guy-with-two-last-names Shabazz Napier seemed to feel like doing when he told reporters that he sometimes goes to bed hungry, left unsatisfied by the NCAA’s limited meal plan.

You could hear the collective gasps go up from the nation’s mothers and obese sports fans alike. I mean, how could the NCAA allow its greatest assets – aside from trademarks and TV rights – to go malnourished? It’s almost as if the NCAA cares more about commodifying college athletics than they do about the well being of athletes.

Well, the NCAA has heard the pleas of its players…after they were loudly echoed by a sensationalist media and an enraged general public. NCAA president Mark Emmert to the rescue! Emmert recently announced that from now on NCAA athletes will be given unlimited meals.

Mmm mmm, food! Nothing says “the NCAA values its athletes as human beings” quite like the same reward that most of us give our dogs after a successful trip to the vet. Well, this ought to end all of that unionization talk that sprang up a few weeks back. After all, what more could the athletes ask for?

The answer, of course, is money. A meal plan is nice, but at the end of the day these kids would rather have some cash. And from now on any time that the NCAA discusses the perks and benefits of being a student athlete, the question of payment will be the 1,000 lb. gorilla in the room.

The NCAA has done a fine job of spinning college athletics as a character-building experience and a means of attaining an education. And a lucky 1 to 2% will even make it into the big leagues and have the opportunity to get a concussion at the professional level. Sure, they work hard, but their “work” isn’t really “work” because it’s voluntary…I mean, sure, they’ll lose their scholarships (and now their precious meal plan, too) if they choose not to play, but the scholarship isn’t payment, it’s a “grant.”

As the National Labor Relations Board has determined, all that “grant” talk is a bunch of bunk. College athletes perform labor that allows their schools to rake in billions of dollars a year, and in exchange the students receive a scholarship. Last month the NLRB ruled that at the simplest level that makes the students employees and the schools employers, and that means the kids have a right to unionize.

The NCAA has already vowed to take the NLRB’s ruling to the Supreme Court, which makes its treatment of athletes a sensitive subject at the moment. And that’s where the food comes in. It’s a convenient way for the NCAA to show how much it cares by doing something cheap and easy that it should have already been doing anyway. It’s a nice smoke screen, but the smoke will clear and the dollar signs will still be there, and at that point all eyes will be on the Supreme Court (especially Justice Alito, what a dreamboat).

And let’s face it, that meal plan probably doesn’t include Taco Bell’s new Waffle Taco. To get all of that syrupy goodness, you need $1.99.

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