While the University of Connecticut men's basketball team takes on the University of Kentucky for the NCAA championship tonight, one UConn player wonders where his next meal will come from.
Shabazz Napier, point guard for UConn, told reporters he understands more than anyone why there is a need for a student athlete union on campus.
"We as student athletes get utilized for what we do so well. We are definitely blessed to get a scholarship to our universities, but at the end of the day, that doesn't cover everything," said Naoier. "We do have hungry nights that we don't have enough money to get food and sometimes money is needed," the senior told reporters. "I think, you know, Northwestern has an idea, and we'll see where it goes."
Napier was referring to a recent landmark court ruling giving Northwestern University football players the right to form a union on campus.
"I find that all grant-in-aid scholarship players for the Employer's football team who have not exhausted their playing eligibility are 'employees' under" the National Labor Relations Act, Peter Sung Ohr, director of the board's Chicago regional office, wrote in his ruling.
But Northwestern is a private college, while UConn is a state university that is governed by state labor laws. The National Labor Relations Board cannot empower student athletes at public universities to unionize.
That leaves students like Napier out on a limb. Although his athletic scholarship gives him a free ride at UConn, the scholarship money doesn't cover everything.
"Like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I am starving. So something can change, something should change. But if it doesn't, at the end of the day, we've been doing this for so long, so ...," he said.
Napier told reporters that it's hard for him to see his jersey getting sold while he struggles to eat.
A UConn spokesman scoffed at the notion that a UConn scholarship athlete is starving.
"Shabazz Napier, like all our scholarship athletes, is provided the maximum meal plan that is allowable under NCAA rules," Phil Chardis said in an emailed statement. "UConn does not have a cafeteria devoted specifically to student-athletes, but they have access to the same cafeterias which are available to all our students."
UConn's Student Athlete Handbook notes that athletes have access to the all-you-can-eat dining facilities that are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
State Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven is working on a bill to allow unions at public universities in Connecticut that would provide student employees with salaries and free health care.
"If state law is the barrier, then we should remove it. It should be up to the players," she said.
Update: Shabazz Napier and the UConn Huskies defeated UK 60-54 to win the NCAA championship. Shabazz will eat good tonight!