In late March, UConn's Shabazz Napier caused a stir when he said there were some nights he went to bed hungry. People scoffed at the idea of a star player not being able to find an open dining hall or afford food on his own, but a couple weeks later–total coincidence on the timing–the NCAA changed its rules to allow unlimited meals for athletes. And he comes Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace, claiming that yep, it's a common problem.
"A lot of guys go to bed hungry at night. That's real," Wallace told CBSSports.com from Thursday's SEC Media Days session. "We have our breakfast and lunch. Our cafe is open, so you can go and swipe your card, but dinner you have to pay for it...We need more compensation for that just to be able to survive. If I didn't have my parents I don't know what I would do. A lot of these kids don't have the same things that I have. I know that their struggle is something terrible. The cost of attendance, if they could just give us that, I think everybody would be OK."
Wallace even wonders how players with minimal resources pay for the suits and ties they must wear to media days. Schools can tap into a special assistance fund for help cover player expenses for special events. "A lot of guys don't have the money to go pay for it," he said.
A lot of people will disbelieve Wallace here. (Comment sections on these stories are always toxic.) But it's a fact that athletes' scholarships fall well short of the actual cost of attending college—to the tune of an average of $3,500 per student per year, according to a 2012 study.
It is true that for most students, their academic scholarships don't cover the full cost of attendance. To that I would note that those students can take part-time or work-study jobs if they choose, an option that's simply not realistic for athletes during their seasons. Could the athletes take out private loans to cover their shortfalls, like other students do? Sure. Then it becomes a philosophical question of why revenue athletes should have the honor of taking on debt for the right to make money for their schools.
This is promising to become a big issue for the NCAA. Just last week, 14 former and current athletes filed an antitrust suit against the NCAA for conspiring to keep football and basketball scholarships below the cost of attendance.
A proposal that would have provided players with cost-of-attendance stipends was voted down in 2011. Next month, the NCAA will vote on whether to give conferences the option of providing cost-of-attendance benefits to players.