Thursday, April 24, 2014

Guard the Post: Analyzing the legitimacy of changes

I have written extensively about the need for change in the governing body of college sport on this blog. As a supporter of the college sport reform movement, I have highlighted a multitude of areas that need care: health insurance for athletes, coverage of extra costs associated with attendance of college, freedom for athletes to use their own likeness to earn money, and, finally, the formation of a legitimate group of advisers to represent college athletes to their universities and other governing bodies. What happened in the past two weeks to work towards these goals and changes? Below is an analysis.


Yes, "Food" is going to be the headline. In response to comments made last week by the MVP of the NCAA Final Four and senior guard of the National Champion Connecticut Huskies, Shabazz Napier that there are nights that he goes to bed "starving", the NCAA's legislative council voted to remove all restrictions on food allowances for student-athletes. This measure, though it may seem small to the average onlooker, is huge for student-athletes across the country. As a student-athlete, you are spending between 10-20 hours a week in class on top of your grueling sport schedule that can be in excess of 50 hours per week. That is a lot. In fact, a few weeks back, the National Labor Relations Board regional office in Chicago deemed football scholarship athletes at Northwestern University athletes under their definition because of that workload.

Moving on. Spending so much time in a physically strenuous environment definitely creates an appetite. Sure, most schools, Drexel (my school) included, have long periods of the day where they can get food, with most locations opening at 8:00am and some staying open as late as 1:00am. Unfortunately for some student-athletes, that elongated time period of dining options is not available.

According to, "UConn's student-athlete handbook lays out provisions for dining and says athletes can eat in any residence hall between 7 a.m. and 7:15 p.m." Now, if a student is working out in the morning from 6:00am until 8:00am, following by class until 1:00pm, practice in the afternoon until 4:00pm, and required study hours until 8:00pm, when exactly are they supposed to eat? This new provision will allow for universities and athletic departments to supply the necessary nutrition for their student-athletes anytime they feel fit. The fact that there was rules against it before was silly, so this is a welcome change.

Sitting on Management Councils

When Northwestern football players vote on their unionization, those that vote yes will be doing it because they want a voice. They want their concerns and desires to be heard by their universities, conferences, and the NCAA and other governing bodies. This July, the Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) will summit with the DII Management Council to discuss adding a seat on the council for a member or multiple members of their SAAC. This comes after a similar arrangement was made in Division III; the DIII SAAC doesn't only have a seat, they also have a vote.
Not to degrade the value of DII and DIII athletics (in fact I believe that they are more in line with the original goal of collegiate sport to enhance the academic experience), but the most publicized change will be seen when Division I completes it's governance restructuring. The 'rumor' is that DI leadership is considering adding a student-athlete seat onto their Board of Trustees and multiple spots onto the soon-to-be-created 34-member "Council", yet to be officially named. This change, if it ever comes to fruition, will mark the first time that student-athletes have a voice in NCAA leadership, which is what Northwestern athletes want more than anything. This, I believe, is more valuable for the future of collegiate athletics, as long as these representatives are taken seriously. If the student-athletes see that they are being heard, and the administration treats them as equals, this current model of the NCAA could possibly stand.


In addition to the vote allowing unrestricted feeding of athletes, the NCAA Legislative council also voted to enforce a few other new rules:
  • Require strength and conditioning coaches to be certified from a nationally accredited certification body;
  • Require a school staff member certified in CPR, first aid, and arterial external defibrillation to be present at all physical, countable athletic activities;
  • Reduce the penalty for a first positive test for street drugs during championships; and
  • Require football players to rest for at least three hours between practices during the preseason. Film review and team meetings will be allowed during this period.
The first two are rules that should have always been NCAA policy, so it is about time. The third I have very little opinion on. The fourth, however, is important. During the Northwestern union trial with the NLRB, a lot of conversation was around the 16-18 hour days for athletes during the preseason. I am not quite sure how this 3 hour rule makes much of a difference because they should have instead defined a practice. Is a weight-lifting session or a physical part of a practice? Does that depend on the school? Could a school make that not a practice, and in turn get around this rule? How about a required 3 hour break after a morning physical activity that includes a lunch or breakfast and allows the student-athlete to leave the facility? If athletes are feeling like their lives are being controlled by their coaches and administrators (as per their argument in Northwestern case), maybe allowing them a little free time in the middle of the day could serve everyone well.

These changes are a good first half-step. By removing the stupid rules, like the food restrictions, the NCAA is showing that they are willing to cut the dead weight off of their vast manual and breed this collegiate sport model for the future. Student-athletes can be both academically focused and succeed on the field, but they need the ability to represent themselves and affect their own treatment on their respective campuses. I have faith in those student-athletes and in the member institutions; it is time for administration to change their path and show a complete, unwavering devotion to the student-athlete.


Kevin Murray is a Pre-Junior Sport Management major at Drexel University, originally from Havertown, PA. In the past, Kevin has worked for Drexel Sport Management doing research on Title IX and collegiate sport, as well as for Drexel Athletics in multiple roles culminating in his first co-op in the External Relations department, where he still works part-time. Along with his duties as a Resident Assistant on campus and as the Vice President of Drexel SMTSU, Kevin is currently on co-op with the Drexel University Office of Institutional Advancement as a Student Liaison for their Alumni Discovery Initiative.  You can follow Kevin on Twitter @kevinj_murray.

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