Column: Unlimited snacks a victory

Mizzou swimmer and Maneater columnist Mitchell Forde on unlimited snacks.

I have a lot of people to thank for helping me along my journey as a student-athlete. Shabazz Napier is one of them.

Yes, that Shabazz Napier.

After leading the University of Connecticut basketball team to a national title this past April, the Final Four Most Outstanding Player told media that “sometimes, there's hungry nights where I'm not able to eat, but I still gotta play up to my capabilities.”

All student-athletes have been there before.

Napier spoke of a constant problem for athletes everywhere: replenishing the thousands of calories we burn in training every day.

For a swimmer like myself, this is especially difficult. You may have heard of Michael Phelps’ 10,000-calorie-a-day diet. During the hardest training of our season, I would wager I come close to matching that.

Hunger is a constant foe, but fighting it can get tricky for a college student on a budget. I frequently stuff myself at dinner, eating four or five plates of food until I feel ready to burst, but then find myself starving again a couple hours later. My choices then are to either spend money on more food or go to bed hungry, like Napier.

Just days after Napier complained about his hunger, the NCAA announced a game-changing new policy. They abolished limits on the amount of free snacks schools were allowed to offer student-athletes, effectively allowing student-athletes to eat as much food as they needed until dinnertime.

Shabazz Napier, champion of the masses. Who would’ve thought?

Granted, no one has actually admitted that his comments had any effect on the new policy. In fact, according to a Forbes article published last April, the issue of whether to allow schools to provide student-athletes unlimited food was first brought up in 2012. But I find it hard to believe that these reforms being announced eight days after Napier’s complaints are a pure coincidence. It seems most likely that Napier’s comments helped expedite the decision.

Before the rule change, scholarship athletes could receive only one free meal from a training-table dining hall. It was also possible for athletes to receive money for the cost of campus dining plans. However, the majority of athletes were lucky to receive anything more than one free meal.

I, like most swimmers, was responsible for paying for all of my food.

Now, the Missouri Athletic Training Complex dining hall is open for unlimited “snacks” between 7:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Food is free in the dining hall between these times, and in addition, student-athletes can fill a to-go box. Then, from 4:30-7 p.m., dinner is served. Dinner still costs the same as last year, but this can be covered by a food scholarship.

Under the new rules, it is possible for me to eat two meals and take some snacks with me, all for free, every weekday. This saves me money that I would’ve spent on groceries or a meal plan. It also eliminates the need to decide between saving money and getting the food I need to perform at my best.

The new policy does not quite cover everything. I am still on my own to find food after dinner and on weekends when the MATC is not open. Still, it is a huge improvement, especially for student-athletes like me who are not on meal scholarship. I eat one more meal a day at the MATC, for free, than I did last year.

I realize that it is really the NCAA I have to thank for the rule change, not Napier. It’s just fun to think of Napier as the heroic activist behind the change. Regardless, unlimited snacks is a major victory for student-athletes.

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