Shawn Izadi

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

Last week, the NCAA Legislative Council voted to approve unlimited meals and snacks for Division I student-athletes as long as they are participating in their sport, though it must be accepted by the Division I Board of Directors at a meeting Thursday. If the Board of Directors does choose to accept the new plan, it will be a positive step for all student-athletes, especially those who aren’t on scholarship. 

The decision came weeks after Shabazz Napier, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, alleged that he often went to bed hungry.

In a postgame interview, Napier spoke to reporters about the National Labor Relations Board ruling that Northwestern’s full-scholarship football players are University employees and therefore eligible to form a union. 

“Sometimes, there’s hungry nights where I’m not able to eat, but I still gotta play up to my capabilities,” Napier said. “I don’t see myself as so much of an employee, but when you see your jersey getting sold, to some credit, you feel like you want something in return. … There are hungry nights when I go to bed and I’m starving.” 

Napier also acknowledged that some student-athletes are financially supported by their scholarships.

“We’re definitely blessed to get scholarships to our universities, but, at the end of the day, that doesn’t cover everything,” Napier said. “We do have hungry nights that we don’t have enough money to get food in. Sometimes money is needed.”

Napier then referred to this year’s championship UCONN squad as the “hungry Huskies” during his postgame speech on perhaps the NCAA’s biggest stage, and there has since been speculation that the legislative council’s decision was a direct response.

Regardless of whether Napier’s allegations are true, they’re definitely plausible in that prior to this ruling student-athletes on scholarship only received three meals a day. While three meals sounds like plenty of food, for athletes who can burn 2,500 calories a practice yet have energy requirements that exceed 4,000 calories a day, it’s insufficient at best. 

Beyond the insufficient meals offered to student-athletes, players also have to contend with the early closing times of campus dining halls. According to USA Today, the legislative council will allow schools to “determine how to best meet the additional nutritional needs of its student athletes,” which could include a late-night meal.

While a lot of emphasis has been placed on Napier in regards to the NCAA’s change in policy, the real winners of this ruling are the walk-ons, or players not on scholarship, who now have access to unlimited meal plans after being denied the three-meal plan before.

Shawn Izadi, a pre-med senior linebacker, is excited about the ruling given that he walked on to the UT football team. Izadi, who didn’t receive any free meals before, will now qualify for the unlimited food and snacks that the policy provides.

“It is great to finally see walk-ons provided this same benefit,” Izadi said. “They go through the same hard work, practices and meetings without the scholarship and, before this move, without provided meals. It never made sense to me why I wasn’t allowed to eat with the team during certain team meals.”

In addition to unlimited meals and snacks, this ruling includes several other provisions, including reduced penalties for first positive drug tests, nationally accredited strength and conditioning coaches, the presence of a CPR-certified staff member at all athletic events, and at least three hours between football practices. 

No one will deny that the legislative council’s approval of this ruling is beneficial to student-athletes — and especially for walk-ons — but I can’t help but wonder what’s in it for the council. Are they really interested in enhancing the well-being of the student-athletes or is this just a scheme to hush increasingly loud talks of college athletes unionizing? 

Izadi thinks this compilation of legal matters has forced a response from the NCAA. 

“If you look at it from the viewpoint of the NCAA, they are under so much criticism from every possible source in recent months,” Izadi said. “[Other cases are] creating waves to compensate players, media is creating their own pressures, Northwestern football is unionizing, and then, on basketball’s biggest stage and the NCAA’s biggest revenue maker, Napier takes multiple shots at the NCAA with reference to the hungry Huskies. It really seems like the NCAA was forced into this move. They had to give the people something in response to everything.”

Curtis Riser, physical culture and sports sophomore and offensive guard on UT’s football team, thinks the decision was made to discourage athletes from unionizing. He still thinks they should get paid but will gladly accept the meals in the meantime.

Following the news of the meal plan legislation, former head football coach Mack Brown tweeted, “Great move by the NCAA giving student-athletes in all sports, including walk-ons, unlimited meals and snacks. This is great for student athlete safety.” 

UT athletic director Steve Patterson, however, is opposed the idea of unionizing.

“The universities, the conferences and the NCAA have done a very poor job of telling our story and we’ve allowed this story to be created by the sports press to focus on the one-half of 1 percent of the student-athletes that go on to play pro sports,” Patterson told “But 99.5 percent of student-athletes would not be in the position they’re in without getting a scholarship.”

Although Northwestern football players have been given permission to unionize, they will vote on whether to exercise that privilege Thursday, the same day directors meet to finalize the meal plan proposals. If these adopted proposals are finalized, they will take effect Aug. 1. 

Izadi said he is not so sure of whether the NCAA had ulterior motives with the meal plan proposal but thinks this move is definitely the first step of hopefully many more in the right direction.

 “We are about to witness a huge change in the culture of sports and the way it is all around,” Izadi said. 

Johnson is a journalism junior from DeSoto.

Since joining UT in early January, head football coach Charlie Strong has made the headlines many times over, and rightfully so. He is the University’s first black men’s head coach. He is guaranteed a minimum of $5 million annually for a five-season term, with $100,000 increases per year starting in 2015. He has brought many new faces to the coaching staff. But aside from all of that, he has brought a refreshing sense of discipline and expectation. What remains to be asked is whether these expectations will foster a fervent effort to ensure success for athletes both on and off the field. 

Shawn Izadi, a pre-med senior linebacker from Coppell, defined the term “student-athlete” as “athlete being in bold, all caps, 50 size font while student is written in small, lowercase italicized font.” 

“It should be the reverse,” Izadi said. “But the problem is a degree doesn’t generate $150 million. Football does. But what a degree will do is place an individual in society to make a meaningful impact.”

The degrees that football players earn at Texas are limited by more than financial concerns: More than one-third of UT’s football team studies physical culture and sports, applied learning and development or youth and community studies. While these areas of study may truly suit their interests, it’s important to consider the other factors that may contribute to the players’ choice of major, as a critical part of academic success is pursuing a major in a field of interest.

Grant Sirgo, a senior mechanical engineering major and kicker for the UT football team, said this pattern may exist because of the support system already in place for those majors.

“With many of the upperclassmen [football players] majoring in these degree plans it can seem like a comfortable choice with a solid support system already in place,” Sirgo said. “Some enter school already having a passion to teach and coach. For these individuals, the decision is no different than mine to enter engineering.” 

But Izadi also offered a different reason for the skew towards physical culture and sports in the player’s academic lives.

“They come here to play football and their priority is not to get an education or they may not have been introduced to what they like yet,” Izadi said. 

Perhaps there’s social pressure to pursue these particular majors, given that the H.J Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports, where most classes in the physical culture and sports major are taught, is conveniently located in the north end of the football stadium. 

Whatever the case may be, it’s important that athletes acquire the best education possible especially since their degrees are all that they’ll have to show for countless hours of dedication to the sport. And by best education, I mean a major that really suits their interests and not what’s socially convenient and easily accessible. 

Strong may not directly address the importance of choosing a major that will provide future opportunities, but his insistence that his team members excel as students first, and then as athletes suggests that the players have free reign when choosing a major. After all, there’s a reason “student” comes before “athlete” in the term “student-athlete.” 

If these athletes are genuinely drawn to their particular majors, their athletic services are being compensated through a free education. But if they are choosing these majors because of social pressures or lack of time to pursue their real interests, the trade-off between their services and their education is heavily lopsided. Though football may be what attracts and binds these football players to UT, it should not be the only thing of value they have once they leave.

Johnson is a journalism junior from DeSoto.

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Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff Shawn Izadi will stop at nothing to make the UT football team as a walk-on.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

On a typical Saturday afternoon, as Texas takes the field, you can see the dedication of the orange and white clad Longhorns who battle through pain, intense heat and long practices day in and day out just to play a sport. What many don’t realize is that the dedication shown by the boys without helmets and pads is just as valuable and just as respectful. The underappreciated walk-ons who sit on the sidelines, many of whom realize they may never see the field, go through the same pain, the same intense heat and the same long practices as the rest of the team.

However, the coaches do not like the term walk-on — they believe that it is degrading to an athlete who is so dedicated to the program, and instead these hard working individuals are known simply as non-scholarship athletes.

Prior to their selection to the team, these non-scholarship athletes go through a very difficult and extremely exhausting tryout process that is not meant for the weak-hearted or feebleminded.

Shawn Izadi, a junior from Coppell, Texas, has been through the tryout process three times and hopes that this year is the year that he finally makes the team.

The biochemistry junior, who hopes to one day go to medical school, signed up to try out for safety. While in high school, Izadi played safety during his freshman and sophomore years. When he made drum major of the band his junior year, he quit football to devote his time to his new position and never made varsity.

As a transfer student his sophomore year, Izadi meant to try out his first semester but was persuaded into auditioning for the Texas Longhorn Band instead. After earning a marching spot, his plans to play football were put on hold.

But while playing “Texas Fight” on a saxophone and watching football in fringe from the stands, Izadi realized he had to try out for the team — he didn’t have a choice.

“As the semester went on, I just got that urge,” he said. “I was like, I got to do this, I got to try out. So Christmas break, I started training.”

The first tryouts were a painful experience. During the first week of his second semester on campus, Izadi tried out for the first time.

“I did not realize how tough tryouts would be. It was the most miserable experience ever,” he explained. “No one was in shape, they ran us to death, it was unbearable and I felt embarrassed.”

They started their tryout process with a warm-up routine in the weight room at Moncrief Newhouse, the football training complex attached to the stadium. It was so physically taxing that none of the nine guys trying out finished what the coaches had planned. That semester, no one made the team.

The part of the workout that they did get through consisted of timed sprints along with sled pulls.

At the beginning of last fall, as a junior, Izadi tried out for a second time. This time, he was ready for it. Over the previous summer, Izadi, along with a few friends, trained with his old high school coach. For two months he went through daily four-hour practices to prepare for the fall.

When he got to Frank Denius Fields, the players were allowed to start off easy by going through their own warm-ups. Afterwards, they got down to business.

“That’s when all hell broke loose,” Izadi said.

The first part of the tryouts is the conditioning portion. The walk-on hopefuls were told to sprint across the field in the shape of an X. Starting at one corner of the field, they had to sprint the diagonal, jog the length of the end zone, then sprint the other diagonal. They had to do that twice. Piece of cake, right?

“Little do you realize that once your adrenaline gets pumping, you wear out quickly. We did that sprint twice and I guess someone didn’t finish, so the coach said ‘again.’ So, we did it again,” he explained. “Then someone must have walked halfway through it ... so we all did it again.”

Yet it still wasn’t enough. The coaches were still not satisfied with three sets of sprints and determined that it was time for more. With legs that were about to collapse, the tryouts got down on the turf and began an assignment of 100 push-ups.

“We got to 50 before we started to break down and then [strength and conditioning] coach [Bennie] Wylie gets down and does 100 push-ups immediately before we even finish ours, it was kind of motivational,” he said.

After the condition, the coaches imposed agility drills to gauge the ability levels of the tryouts. It may seem simple enough, but after being worked to the bone during warm-ups and sprint drills, it was hard to keep up a decent level of intensity. The repetitiveness of the drills and the coaches’ strict directions added to the challenge.

“They were big on their directions, if they said touch the line, you better touch the line,” Izadi said.

Finally, the process was almost over. There was just one more thing. The tryouts ended with what seemed like a Texas football tradition. Everyone had to start on the goal line, bear crawl 10 yards followed by five up-downs. Between each up-down, they had to yell “I Love Texas!”

“Every player that has gone through the Texas program recently goes through this,” he recalled. “You can’t even describe it. I told myself that I better make it this year because I don’t want to go through that again.”

After everything was said and done, Izadi still didn’t make the team. However, this time it was because the coaches didn’t have enough roster spots to add a non-scholarship safety.

Even though he didn’t make the team, he was still impressed by the level of respect that the coaches held for everyone at the tryouts.

“The coaches told us that no matter if we made it or not, we should feel accomplished that we even decided to step out on this field to attempt this, and you could tell from their voice that it’s very sincere,” he said.

Izadi also had nothing but praise for the two coaches who put on the workouts — coach Ken Rucker, the director of high school relations and player development, and coach Wylie, the football strength and conditioning coach.

“Both are fabulous coaches, I couldn’t ask anything more of a coach,” he said. “I would love nothing more than to be part of their program because the way they treated us was with the utmost respect.”

He went on to describe a moment when he saw Rucker right before a Longhorn Band rehearsal. Izadi was impressed that Rucker remembered him after the short time they spent together during tryouts.

When asked if he would put himself through the painful tryout process for a third time, Izadi admitted that he had no choice.

“That’s a tough question, but I have to,” he said. “Every year I get closer and closer. Football is just something I am in love with. I may not be the best athlete. I may lack talent. And I may lack the physical tools necessary, but none of that has ever stopped me from pursuing what I love. Don’t ever give up on the things that mean the most to you. Work hard. Dig deep.”