- Associated Press - Monday, August 11, 2014

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - It is one of many new rules passed by the NCAA this year. And for student-athletes, there are two key words.

Unlimited meals.

On Aug. 1, the NCAA let schools provide unlimited food for its athletes on top of what they provide in meal plans and stipends from scholarships.

This follows a rule passed last year that let schools offer more “snacks,” such as bagels, fruits and nuts.

Matt Whisenant is the deputy director of athletics at the University of Wyoming. He said the interpretation of the new rule is “about as clear as mud.”

But UW is taking an aggressive approach to better feed its 350 - 400 athletes, Whisenant said. He added that after talking to his colleagues in the Mountain West Conference, UW’s plan is one of the more substantial.

He said UW has two phases for unlimited meals. The first is underway now. Additional food, including fruits, vegetables, proteins, trail mix, yogurt, sandwiches and smoothies, are available in the weight room of the Rochelle Athletics Center.

That food is available during weight-room hours, which could be as early as 6 a.m. and as late as 10 p.m. Set hours have yet to be determined.

Whisenant said UW this year budgeted $100,000 for food and between $130,000 and $140,000 for construction and equipment costs related to the program.

The money came from the athletics department budget and was not taken away from meal plans or stipends for athletes. Those who live in the dorms have the option for a meal plan at the Washakie Dining Center. Whisenant said most student-athletes opt for the unlimited meal plan.

Those who live off campus can take the on-campus meal plan, get a stipend as part of their scholarships or take a combination of both. There have been published stories around the country this year from athletes saying they do not get enough to eat because of their time constraints between school and athletics. Or, that their scholarship does not provide enough for food.

Former Connecticut men’s basketball player Shabazz Napier was quoted as saying he sometimes went to bed “starving.”

Whisenant, who has been at UW for 12 years, said he never has heard athletes say they went hungry while at the school.

Athletes in most sports have busy schedules juggling sports and school.

The fall semester at UW does not start until Aug. 26, so most of the athletes on campus now can focus on sports. But when school starts, there is class on top of practice time, meetings and time with tutors provided by the athletics department.

“Last year, I had tutors right after practice until 9 at night,” senior soccer player Kristin Howard told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle (http://bit.ly/1uj0x0O). “There was no way I could go get dinner and then go to tutors.

“Our tutors are right above our weight room, so we can go in and grab something to eat and eat that during our tutor session. That will be nice.”

UW also has a nutritionist, Jackie Barcal, to monitor the food and nutrition consumed by athletes. If they expect to go in there and grab pizza and Doritos, they are out of luck.

Sophomore defensive lineman Uso Olive said: “It’s not even about the food. It just shows how valued we are as student-athletes. With all the renovations and all that’s going on, honestly, I don’t think we deserve that. But these coaches that came in truly believe in us.”

First-year football coach Craig Bohl is a proponent of the change and is taking a hands-on approach to nutrition for his players. He said UW will be a developmental program in terms of its players, and nutrition plays a role in that.

UW also hopes to use its investment in food and nutrition as a recruiting tool for future athletes.

Zach Duval is the “head coach” of UW’s sports performance department, and he works closely with the football program. Like Bohl, Duval said nutrition needs to be at the forefront in student-athlete development.

“At the end of the day, it is not worth it to me to take athletes and put them through a workout with the intensity and duration that we’re going to without knowing they are fed,” Duval said.

“That’s like owning a Ferrari and racing it without putting any gas or oil in it. No one is that stupid, but we’ve been that stupid.

“Is a kid waking up and having breakfast? Now, we can strategically track that, and that’s why we are putting it in this room. I want to know. I want to be in charge of that and there is accountability.”

The second phase for UW will be to provide a “training table” for athletes, but how to go about it is unclear.

Whisenant said UW could build a separate structure, like it had at the “Bunkhouse” on campus back in the 1990s.

There also is talk UW could create a training table in the newly renovated Arena-Auditorium.

The first phase of that renovation is set to be done by October. But even if a training table is set up, how would UW implement it?

Does it mean three meals a day? And what constitutes a meal? Is it steak and potatoes or sub sandwiches? And how many times a week are those meals provided?

And then there is the cost, which not only includes food but staffing.

Whisenant said he has heard some of the larger schools spend more than $1 million a year for that.

UW can’t afford that, at least not right now. But it plans to move forward with some sort of training table, and the sooner the better.

“We would love to have it done yesterday, but we are all on board that we want it,” Whisenant said. “We need to make a decision soon and then plan on how to get there.”

___

Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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