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Dick Harmon: New college food rules could lead to grub wars

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2015 6:58 p.m. MDT

People dish up food at the Utah football national letter of intent Crimson Club celebration at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) People dish up food at the Utah football national letter of intent Crimson Club celebration at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

There’s another arms race in college sports. This time, it isn't over spiffy stadiums or shiny workout rooms. It is about food.

Who will bring more manna to the table?

Whose forks will be fully loaded?

That’s the mild worry circulating around the Big 12 meetings, which took place this week in Irving, Texas.

On April 15, right after the NCAA men's basketball tournament, the NCAA announced that all Division I schools may now provide unlimited food to athletes. Before, rules restricted schools to providing scholarship athletes three square meals and snacks a day.

Now, the door is open for not only the three squares — of varying fashion and content — but unlimited grub 24/7 so guys and gals don’t go to bed hungry. It starts Aug. 1.

BYU football players Steve McFarland, Daniel Sorensen, Victor Unga and Tucker Lamb enjoy food from the buffet at the ESPN Zone Welcome Reception at the New York New York Hotel in Las Vegas. The reception was for BYU and Arizona teams and they enjoyed arcade games, food and activities on Dec. 17, 2008. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News) BYU football players Steve McFarland, Daniel Sorensen, Victor Unga and Tucker Lamb enjoy food from the buffet at the ESPN Zone Welcome Reception at the New York New York Hotel in Las Vegas. The reception was for BYU and Arizona teams and they enjoyed arcade games, food and activities on Dec. 17, 2008. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News)

So, what you could see is something akin to what you get on cruise ships. Unlimited means unlimited. Blue-blooded schools pushed hard for this.

You’ll get your locker room hot dog stand, maybe a taco bar, a salsa and chips table, nacho cheese dispensers, a fruit spread, a stop for smoothies, pre-practice munchies, film session hors d’oeuvres, a pre-breakfast canape, midnight cheeseburgers, cracker and cheese trays, boxes of bagels, pallets of pastries, your basic seafood, Italian, Mexican, Chinese cuisine, and perhaps a little corn dog action. Probably not an ice sculpture.

Imagine skinny track guys jockeying for places in a buffet line with linebackers.

Our in-state schools will take a bite into this. The Utes’ new facility will have spreads, BYU’s Legends Grille might have a swinging gate policy. Who has the most Polynesian food might become a recruiting selling point.

Seriously, though, nutritionists will be involved. They'll provide good calories with the proper mix of protein and carbs. Thing is, according to NCAA figures, only 22 of 120 FBS schools turned a profit in 2010-11. So, even though Big 5 conferences are giddy about the new rule and pushed it, the change will cost bucks.

Administrators estimate costs for this luxury will approach $1 million a year. The idea is that these athletes require about 5,000 calories a day to keep up their weight and strength. The basic three squares on university dime didn’t cut it and players were supplementing their diets out of their own pockets, which wasn’t fair since schools were making collective billions off their work.

Kansas State estimates the cost to be between $700,000 to $1 million annually. Texas says $750,000 to $2 million.

K-State says it will have “fueling stations” available to players.

It’s kind of hard to estimate the Texas bill since everything is bigger in Texas, and bigger there might be more barbecue. The price of beef is rising.

Back in the day, Austin had its own unlimited food and soda pop stop for Texas football players. In the book “The System,” Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian tell of a topless bar called “The Rose” on the 6,500 block of Lamar that had an open invitation to Longhorn players to enjoy a VIP table with all fixings except booze.

I asked former BYU offensive lineman Jake Kuresa, who played for the Cougars from 2002-06, what his dream menu would be if this rule would have been in effect in his day.

“In a perfect world, this is how I’d set it up and it really puts a smile on my face even though I wouldn’t benefit from it,” he said.

While trying to make it in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints, Kuresa watched the organization set up a protein shake bar/buffet in the locker room after practice.

“It would have been great to have an unlimited protein shake bar with blenders where somebody cleans it and you always have bananas, peanut butter, anything you could think of to start the day to get your morning workout. Then have an open bar glass cooler for post-workout. You’d shower and get ready for classes for the day and then have a make-your-own breakfast burrito you could take to classes for the day. If they could sit down and not have to run, sure, have them make omelets with toast or whatnot.

“I’m telling you, it would have been easier to walk up that huge flight of stairs to class after morning workouts. For lunch, if I could set it up, between classes, have a sandwich bar where you could choose your own meats and breads and easy take it on the run to classes."

Post-practice, Kuresa’s dream would be for the school to have a Polynesian plate — macaroni and rice with a meat choice of teriyaki chicken or kalua pork. “That would be sweet — eat healthy so you have energy for practice during the day, then polish it off with a nice tasty meal.”

In other words, sort of like being on a cruise ship.

Fun aside, it will be interesting to see how this new allowance progresses.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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