NCAA changes rules on athletes’ meals

Published in FSD Update

The recent ruling by the NCAA that student-athletes in Division I institutions will be allowed unlimited meals and snacks has been met with everything from consternation to puzzlement from foodservice directors. Some are concerned about the effect it could have on their current operations, while others believe it could benefit their departments.

In late April, the NCAA altered its approach to feeding student-athletes, giving colleges the option of providing unlimited meal service to all athletes. Previously, scholarship athletes received meal plans as part of their scholarship package, and training table meals only—usually one meal a day to athletes while their sports are in season—were provided for non-scholarship athletes.

“NCAA members decided to deregulate the rules around meals to improve student-athlete well-being,” says NCAA spokeswoman Michelle Brutlag Hosick. “Members [also] believe the change is another step toward eliminating unnecessary rules and removing the campus monitoring associated with those rules. Athletic department officials may exercise their discretion in providing meals and snacks without fearing second-guessing by NCAA staff.”

Many operators FSD spoke with either were unaware of the ruling or haven’t communicated with their schools’ athletic directors.

“We have not finalized our plans for the upcoming academic year with Stanford Athletics,” says Eric Montell, executive director of Stanford Dining at Stanford University, in Palo Alto, Calif. “I would anticipate knowing more within the next month.”

But at those universities where the issue has been discussed, or at least examined, opinions are mixed.

“This is something that’s going to be very costly to schools,” says Dawn Aubrey, associate director of housing and dining services at the University of Illinois, in Champaign-Urbana. Noting that the NCAA rule is merely a guideline, not a mandate, Aubrey adds, “It’s one of those things that schools will be participating in because they simply need to keep themselves competitive.”

Aubrey has met with the athletic department and drafted a plan that would provide 18 meals per week, plus snacks, for the university’s 500 athletes—triple the number of athletes that were previously being covered.

“The 18 meals are breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday, breakfast and lunch on Friday, and brunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday,” she says. “We actually are going to be feeding them [in the Colonnades Club] at Memorial Stadium, and the foods that they are being served are being closely monitored by the sports nutritionist. So this is a really big deal.”

Aubrey estimates that the new program could cost dining services “around $1.5 to $1.6 million,” adding that the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics would reimburse her department.
Staff that previously worked at the Varsity Room—the training table room—will be shifted to the stadium, and Aubrey will add employees there “until we know what kind of participation we expect.”

Randy Lait, senior director of hospitality services at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, doesn’t expect the new rules to have a dramatic effect “because of the number of students who are [non-scholarship] who are already buying meal plans.”

“We have 400 to 500 athletes already [in the existing athletic dining hall], so we’re talking about 100 more at the training table meal,” Lait says. “We’re already well-positioned for that.”

He adds that because the rules are voluntary, each school will likely handle their programs differently.

“I think it’s going to be a challenge for schools to provide unlimited specialized food to all of their student athletes,” he suggests. “I think you’ll see some schools do a blend, where perhaps they’ll offer a joint meal for all, like one per day or a certain number per week, but I don’t think they’re going to provide unlimited meals.”

Lait believes that the rules are beneficial. “I think it gives us more of an opportunity to provide healthy and nutritious meals and having more access to healthier food is a good thing.”

At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Athletic Director Tim Taggart says his department’s approach will be to do a continental breakfast for all student athletes five days a week.

“We’ll look at it again next summer and decide if we want to make any changes or increase the meals,” he says. “I would say 95% [of schools] do not have the money to feed student athletes all the time.”

Nancy Keller, director of dining services at Iowa State University, in Ames, says she looks at the new rules as a way to generate additional revenue for her operation. Since most athletes are already on a meal plan, she has proposed an add-on to the athletic department to cover late-night service.

“We’ve suggested giving athletes a set dollar amount per day to use in our late-night operations,” Keller explains. “The student would have to use the money that night or lose it. Whatever was spent would be charged back to the athletic department.”

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
ranch dressing chicken fingers

While salad bars are often the first place K-12 operators look to incorporate more fresh produce, few go as far as making their own salad dressings. But last fall, in a continuing effort to transition from prepackaged meals to an all-scratch menu, Mark Augustine, executive chef of culinary and nutrition services for Minneapolis Public Schools, switched to concocting four varieties in-house—ranch, Caesar, Italian and Asian vinaigrette. The move, designed to eliminate artificial ingredients and lower fat and sodium, presented the biggest challenge when it came to ranch dressing, the school-...

Ideas and Innovation
business card

We get the new folks abridged business cards saying, “Hi, my name is so-and-so and I work in nutrition department.” We thought it would give them more ownership of the program and elevate their status and position in the organization. It also gives our team more self-confidence and self-worth as an employee, which can be a challenge with foodservice workers.

Ideas and Innovation
tug hospital robot

Automation has opened up in recent years as foodservice operators across the country grapple with labor shortages. Robots deliver food trays to patients in hospitals, and they make sushi on college campuses. For some operators, they’re worthwhile to reduce strain on human employees and increase productivity.

Robots roamed the hallways when the University of California San Francisco Medical Center’s new Mission Bay campus opened last year. Though these robots have nicknames like Wall-E and Tuggie McFresh, they’re not a novelty. They’re a solution to a problem that administrators...

Ideas and Innovation
sandwich sub

At our corporate operation in the Kohl’s headquarters, two kinds of sandwiches are available daily—an artisan version and a more straightforward sub. While planning out a business model for the space, Kohl’s wanted something that was quality driven, but very sensitive to pricing for associates. Diners are comfortable spending about $6 to $7 for lunch.

FSD Resources