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Long-running debate over permitting snacks in DIII finally will reach a vote

A proposal that would have permitted Division III schools to provide snacks to student-athletes stalled last year, but members will soon get another bite at the apple.   

In February 2018, the Division III Interpretations and Legislation Committee first discussed the notion of relaxing rules that restrict Division III schools from providing snacks and supplements to their student-athletes (beyond what is already permitted during road trips). That discussion, prompted by a similar rule that Division II adopted in 2015, morphed into a recommendation to allow schools to provide snacks incidental to athletics participation to student-athletes at any point during the academic year.

After that recommendation was struck down by the Division III Presidents Council in August 2018, a comparable proposal has emerged from within the membership that will headline the legislative slate at the 2020 Division III Business Session at the NCAA Convention.

Emory first introduced the legislation, which would permit the provision of snacks and permissible nutritional supplements, and it has since garnered the requisite 20 sponsors needed to reach the Convention floor. Sponsors say the proposal is designed to offer schools the flexibility to meet student-athletes’ nutritional needs and to alleviate administrative burdens associated with enforcing current prohibitions.

“It’s really directed toward the welfare of student-athletes,” says Michael Vienna, Emory athletics director. “Being able to at least provide them a snack on the go is necessary.”

In August 2018, a month after the Division III Management Council formally recommended the snacks proposal, the Presidents Council expressed concerns that the change might create inequities between campuses. With no specific restrictions on the types of snacks that could be offered or the amount schools would be allowed to spend to furnish them, council members noted that schools with more financial resources might be able to provide a more robust selection than schools with tighter budgets. Such an imbalance could be leveraged for recruiting advantages, council members said. They also worried the rule change could create issues between student-athletes, who could receive these snacks at any point during the academic year, and their fellow students, who might be barred from partaking. Because of those reservations, the Presidents Council opted not to send the proposal on for a vote at the 2019 Convention.

“Obviously, we believe in good nutrition,” Jeff Docking, Adrian president and then-Presidents Council chair, said at the time. “The issue really becomes, where does it stop? What constitutes a snack? How expensive will it be? Will this create a ‘haves versus have-nots’ situation on campuses?”

Vienna and the legislation’s co-sponsors are aware of those potential drawbacks and acknowledge the proposal will require further refinement to address some of those concerns in the coming months. “The intention is certainly not that we’re providing smorgasbords for our student-athletes or that it will be a key bragging point during recruiting,” he says.

Vienna notes that other school functions and clubs often provide food or snacks for students who attend. The sponsors are adamant that the rule is not meant to be a dividing line between schools with the means to provide elaborate snacks and those that can only furnish something basic.

“When I talk to people across campus and on other campuses about snacks and this proposed legislation, they say, ‘You can’t give them some granola bars after practice or as they’re running to class?’” he says. “Nope, technically, that’s a violation of the rules. That concept, I think, just doesn’t resonate.”

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.