Mark Emmert: Food rule 'absurd'

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NCAA president Mark Emmert said Friday that he was happy to take pressure off his organization and its member schools as the governing body's legislative council voted earlier this week to eliminate all previous restrictions on food for athletes.

"The biggest problem was, the NCAA has historically had all kinds of, I don't know how to describe it [except to say] dumb rules about food," Emmert said on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike" show. "The infamous one is you can provide between meals a snack, but you can't provide a meal. Well, then you got to define what's the difference between a snack and a meal? So it was literally the case that a bagel was defined as a snack -- unless you put cream cheese on it. Now it becomes a meal. That's absurd."

Emmert went on to say that "if UConn wants to feed Shabazz [Napier] breakfast in bed every day they can," but he made a point of saying that the new rules weren't brought about because of the Huskies guard's recent comments that sometimes he went to bed "starving."

The problem wasn't an issue only for schools, it was a burden on the NCAA, as well.

"We wind up having to enforce the stupid rule, which means you have to have someone watching if someone is putting cream cheese on a bagel," Emmert said.

Emmert told ESPN.com that if the deregulation of food gives some schools advantages over other schools, so be it.

"The notion that schools might compete by offering better quality food, that's not inherently a bad thing," Emmert said. "So let's compete over who can provide the best nutrition for a student-athlete. We compete over who can give them the best locker room. I'd rather they compete over who can give them the best nutrition. So will there be competition around that, I'm sure there will be, but I don't think that's a bad thing."

Next week, Northwestern football players will vote on whether to form a union. For his part, Emmert said, "Most of the things that I saw Northwestern athletes asking for are either in place or on their way to being in place."

One issue brought up by former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter in his hearing with the National Labor Relations Board was the idea of completely covering medical expenses. Emmert said the NCAA spends $20 million a year on premiums to cover a long-term disability insurance policy for athletes. The NCAA policy has covered some former athletes who were permanently disabled on the field of play during their college years for at least 20 years.

Emmert said that 2014 will be a year of progress, as he expects the NCAA to approve a measure that will cover the gap between a scholarship and the full cost of attendance. Emmert also said a vote will take place next week on a rule that will tack on an extra year at the end of the eligibility of a player who transfers and immediately has to sit out a season.

"You don't want to be punitive to an athlete who makes a change, obviously, but you don't want to have coaches recruiting people off other people's benches," Emmert said.

As the pressure mounts on the NCAA, with lawsuits and potential unionization of the Northwestern players, Emmert told ESPN.com he hopes the current model will survive.

"The reality is that the model serves more than a half a million students every year very well," Emmert said. "It produces $2.7 billion in scholarship support. Are there things we need to fix? You bet there are. But you don't throw that baby out with the bathwater. We have to find ways to change and improve without ruining that successful model.

"It's far too easy to look at this huge top-line revenue number and say 'Everyone is making money,' when the reality is that that top-line number supports a half a million kids."

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