Posted by Adam Jacobi
UCLA is gearing up for a bowl date against Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, a game set for New Year's Eve. And although UCLA and Illinois shouldn't be imbued with a heightened awareness of fighting hunger by the invitation any more than Texas A&M and Northwestern should be considered auto repair enthusiasts by dint of appearing in the Maaco Car Care Bowl, there is still no shortage of irony that UCLA is apparently causing hunger in some of its own football players this month.
Some UCLA football players and members of the coaching staff were at odds Sunday after bowl game checks meant to help with living expenses were withheld.
Some players did not receive checks for failing to attend what they called voluntary workouts during finals week, according to one parent who asked not to be identified because it could affect his son. Players said they use the money to buy food, as university services are shut down after the quarter ends.
UCLA spokesperson Nick Ammazzalorso said the players had been notified in advance that the checks would be withheld, and that the players in question had also not filled out academic paperwork. The crux of the matter, however, appears to be that the coaching staff and players disagreed on whether the workouts during finals week were mandatory or not, and that the consequence of missing a finals week practice was to withhold necessary living expenses.
As for how well-needed these checks were, the coaches eventually issued the checks after realizing that not doing so would cause financial hardship -- yes, that required a realization -- but not before two Bruins took to Twitter to complain about their hunger.
"We are being held from our checks because we chose not to participate in voluntary workouts," defensive back Randall Carroll wrote on Twitter. "Honestly, [I] don't know how I'm going to eat these few days."
Linebacker Aramide Olaniyan also posted on Twitter account, saying in part "My stomach [is] growling tonight."
This story's far from over at this point; UCLA should probably make a clarification on whether the workouts in question were in fact mandatory, and a statement from the NCAA on whether UCLA's initial handling of the situation was appropriate in the NCAA's eyes. Perhaps it was, and perhaps all bowl teams are operating under similar guidelines. Now would be the time to make that clear, though, because if all fans have is this account of the UCLA program, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that something is dreadfully awry in the way athletes in need are treated.
Now, if that seems like an exaggeration, consider that had Olaniyan or Carroll gotten a free meal from a sympathetic restaurateur who didn't want to see the two young men go hungry, that would be an impermissible benefit and would likely cost the two players their eligibility for at least the upcoming bowl game. Choosing between eligibility and dinner seems like an awfully heavy consequence of missing a workout and/or not filling out a minor piece of paperwork, does it not?