The training table experiment at Fresno State did not work out, in part because a large number of student-athletes did not participate in the program even though they had paid for those meals through deductions in their scholarship checks.
It might not make sense, but it happens. New Mexico coach Bob Davie said he saw a similar thing happen when he was at, of all places, Notre Dame.
“When you get to that third meal and you can just go eat on campus … it was the same thing at Notre Dame. At Notre Dame, our kids could eat on campus. They don’t go,” said Davie, who coached the Fighting Irish from 1997 through 2001. “It’s crazy. They will not eat if they have to eat on campus. Maybe it’s the presentation of it; maybe it’s the same food all the time. Whatever it is, to try to get those kids to eat, unless you’re bringing it to them, you’re going to have a hard time.
“They don’t take advantage of it like you’d think, and that’s what’s frustrating.”
Fresno State is working on alternatives to a training table for its football program, making sure the players are eating and eating properly to gain required fuel.
With practices to be held this season in the morning rather than the afternoon, there is a plan to bring in a brunch/lunch meal that the players can eat at the football facilities or take to go if they have a class. Fresno State also is exploring ways to make a second meal on or off campus more convenient.
But in getting there, Fresno State has some catching up to do with some of its Mountain West rivals, which was made clear Tuesday and Wednesday at conference media days.
How do other teams feed their players with the ability to provide unlimited meals but without the much larger budgets of Power Five programs?
The question was put to several coaches in the conference, all of whom have dealt with challenges in feeding their teams and revamped their programs to some degree.
Davie – “What we do, we work on campus with food services and we make our kids buy an unlimited meal ticket on campus. We make every one of our kids buy it.
“We practice in the mornings and, long story short, I worked out a deal because I have these kids buy these meal tickets on campus. These meal tickets are expensive. No other students are really buying these meal tickets. But because I’m doing that, they (food services) bring breakfast to our football facility for our team, so I watch our kids eat breakfast every day at 7 o’clock. Mandatory. They’re all there.
“We practice. Then I watch them eat lunch. They bring lunch in as well. Then they go to class and they have that meal ticket to use as their third meal and actually there are some unlimited things as far as snacks for them on campus. For us, how it works best for us, I feed them in our football building, breakfast and lunch every day, and I watch them eat.”
Rocky Long, San Diego State – “A couple of nights a week, only during the season, we cater in, and it’s mostly the food service people on campus that do it. Now, obviously, we give them the menu that we want and so the kids on Tuesday and Wednesday, as soon as practice is over, they’ll come up and eat and then take off. But other than that, we don’t do anything special. In the weight room, they get energy bars and they can get those protein shakes, but we don’t have a snack bar or an energy place or whatever people are calling that, an energy place, we don’t have any of that.”
Mike Bobo, Colorado State – “I’ve been very fortunate in that area since Day One. They had a fueling station as they called it in place and had the money allocated when I took the job. I didn’t really think that we were using it in the sense that it needed to be used. I thought kids were just basically going to the fueling situation and replacing their meals, not using it as a supplement to their meals.
“I went to our athletic director and said I need a full-time dietitian, and he allocated the resources and allowed me to hire a full-time dietitian who plans all these kids’ meals, who goes shopping with them, who oversees everything they eat in the cafeteria or if we bring in a meal, which we do once a day. She’s in charge of the fueling station and what they get, prepares bags for them. It’s a total commitment to fuel the kids so they can perform in the classroom and on the field, and I’m excited about the direction we continue to go in that area. We have a new fueling station being built in the new stadium that’s going to connect with the weight room and the training room.
“We train them year-round these days and ask them to perform at a high level on the field and in the classroom, and we have to fuel them the right way. My ops guy told me last year we were spending $5,000 more ... a week than they did with the previous staff, and now we’re at $7,500 a week, so we feed them and fuel them non-stop.”
Ron Caragher, San Jose State – “In fall camp, I think everyone is standard on that. We give them three meals a day because there’s not much going on there on campus. Once school starts, we will give them one training table a day and then the off-campus guys with their scholarship checks, they’re on their own, really, for the other two meals. Then the guys living on campus, they’re mostly younger guys, they eat in the dormitory, in the cafeteria there.
“But at least I feel that peace of mind our players I know are getting one solid meal. You hope that they’re making good meals when they’re living at home and you hope that the guys living in the dorms are eating responsibly, though dorm food everywhere, right, can get tiring. But as far as our training table, we use the university itself. The university will come down and we have a kitchen attached to our offices and they’ll make the training table for our guys. It’s more tailored to the guys and the big reason for that is I want them to eat after practice. It just works out good to do that.”
Tony Sanchez, UNLV – “Our kids get one swipe a day, which means they can go into the dining commons once a day and eat there. And then in our weight room, we literally took what was a broom closet and reconfigured it and refit it. And we went to our nutrition department and we got one nutritionist and a bunch of undergraduate assistants and they come in every single morning while our kids are lifting and they’re cooking eggs and pancakes and sausage and bacon and just making sure that as soon as our guys are done they immediately are fueling their bodies.
“They didn’t have that before. I cannot tell you – little things like that will help you win football games. You’re sustaining all that weight and all that hard work you put in, you’re able to refuel it.
“That’s where facilities come in. We need to build a facility that will allow us to have that training table in there and that’s what we’re designing right now. We’re fundraising for it right now, but in that new building we have a dining facility that seats 125 people, it has got the full kitchen and we’ll hire a chef to come on in and cook for our kids. I’ll tell you what, you get up, have a grab-and-go breakfast, go practice, come in and eat steak and eggs and then go to class, it tastes good and you have a chance.”
Fresno State aims to fall in line with its conference rivals, once plans are implemented.
“We’re switching gears from the model we attempted last year, trying to make it more efficient and also make it to where it’s convenient and it will be used by all our student-athletes,” coach Tim DeRuyter said.
“I think the different sports may be making choices with what they want to do for nutrition and whether they want to take some of that (scholarship) money to do that. And because of that, I think we’ll be able to tailor it specifically to each individual sport and what their needs are.”
“Each school has to make the best of their situation,” Davie said. “That’s the world we live in, in the Mountain West Conference.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada