Virginia Tech’s Nutritional Aristocracy: Student Athletes

Virginia Tech football coach Justin Fuente (right) shakes hands with President Timothy Sands, with athletic director Whit Babcock in the background. Photo credit: Roanoke Times

Virginia Tech has just received the largest philanthropic gift in its history, a $15.2 million anonymous donation for… a 17,000-square-foot enhanced dining hall for student athletes. The state-of-the-art “performance center” will serve as a dining room for athletes in the university’s 22 sports programs, reports the Roanoke Times.

“This is a big step in our journey to being the best in the ACC,” said Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock at a news conference yesterday. “What we aspire to is to be a leader across the board, and we will get there in our conference.”

About half the ACC schools have a sports nutrition program, and Virginia Tech is one of them. With five dedicated dieticians, the university has the largest staff in the league. The Hokies spend $2.5 million to $3 million per year to feed their athletes.

Tech athletic officials see a strong emphasis on nutrition as one of the best way to improve athletic performance. “We’ve seen more gains through not doing anything different in the weight room but feeding our kids on a more consistent basis,” said football coach Justin Fuente. “It you just give them money, they’re not going to buy food. And if they do, it’s not going to be good food.”

By making the athletic dining hall a reality, the gift clears the way to the athletic department’s future goals of expanding the strength and conditioning area in the football building, renovating Cassell Coliseum, making improvements to Lane Stadium, and addressing funding for scholarships.

Volunteers at the food bank near Virginia Tech. Photo credit: Roanoke Times

Bacon’s bottom line: People should be free to spend their money how they please, and if someone wants to give $15.2 million to create a state-of-the-art dining room and sports nutritional program, well, that’s their right. But I really do question the donor’s priorities. College affordability and access have reached such a crisis stage that some Virginia Tech students are skipping meals and resorting to food banks.

When the term “starving students” is to be taken literally, here are questions that local media should be asking: What will it cost to maintain and operate the dining hall, and who is paying? To their credit, the anonymous donors established an endowment that will provide additional funding for upkeep in future years — a generous gesture and wise precaution. Here’s what we don’t know: Will that endowment cover the entire cost or just a portion?

By the way, who pays for those five dieticians — Virginia Tech’s athletic department? If so, where does the athletic department’s funding come from? TV revenues and ticket sales? Tuition revenue? State support for Virginia Tech?

Virginia Tech has a three-tiered nutritional regime: one tier for student athletes, another tier for those who can afford the Hokies’ renowned dining facilities, and a third tier for those who have recourse to food banks. If I were a betting man, I’d guess that the creation of the top tier is funded entirely through donations and athletic department revenues. But I don’t know that for a fact. The public has a right to know, and the media have a responsibility to find out.

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9 responses to “Virginia Tech’s Nutritional Aristocracy: Student Athletes”

  1. If you are questioning the cost to students to attend VT, you need to ask the administration why it created a passport office in Squires. How much money is that costing the students? Why? When the US Post Office – which is tasked with providing this service — NOT a university — is less than a mile from campus.

  2. Nice to know that someone cares so much for the student athletes and no one gives a crap about the food bank kids.

    1. Kinda reminds me of the special dining the Romans provided for their elite gladiators.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’l say this… VT nor any other University would allow such a thing if they thought it harmed them.

    It’s the opposite. Football attracts students and amenities for football players attract the players..

    Not unique to VT… common practice across Higher Ed…

    No State is going to make it harder for Higher Ed to do football..

    Can anyone imagine VT without their sports teams?

    that’s what I thought.. see.. it’s not about anything else.. it’s about
    sports being an integral part of higher ed… QED

  4. LG, I agree except I’d change that to say, “Football attracts alumni donations and State appropriations, and amenities for football players attract the players.”

    Many of the students I knew at UVa would come to lacrosse or soccer games or club sports or IMs for an afternoon of hanging out with friends and dates. They mostly avoided the football scene except to come to the Stadium for a few drunken home games and associated festivities. If they knew a football player socially it’s in spite of the difficulty of finding time to share with someone who is required to live (and will now eat) in another world. They may be attracted to VT today by alumni or family who dote on the games, but they don’t live in that world once they get there. I see the continuing infatuation with Big Sports as a generational thing.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    IM – intra mural? .. isn’t there a difference between athletes that are recruited with scholarships for NCAA type sports competitions – and folks that participate in IM?

    In the dining-hall deal.. won’t all the formal sports athletes be using that hall and none of the IM folks?

    Isn’t that a proper distinction?

    On the other.. I do think some people.. a lot of people want to go to a University with a Name Brand big time sports involvement and a significant number of the Alumni primarily identify with their Alma Mater through sports – on TV.. or similar…

    If there were no NCAA type sports at VaTech or UVA.. would it affect enrollment and alumni giving?

    honest question… You have schools like MIT that have no sports but tremendous endowments…

  6. You are asking the right questions, Jim, about this donor’s priorities. Notice that the article said they were doing this nutrition center as a way to compete, to win. They said nothing about preparing young people for life, or making them healthy for the long haul. Perhaps that’s implicit, but to me it should be item #1. Thanks!

  7. DLunsford Avatar

    Yet more nitwittery from the academic-industrial complex.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    Seems like there is a JLARC study from a few years back that said that mandatory student fees were paying a significant part of athletics.

    I suspect it’s in the financials but lay people lack the expertise and/or time to ferret it out and “investigative” journalism is a real casualty of the internet age.

    All major schools do this.. it’s not unique to Tech at all.. and they compare themselves to each other in terms of practices.. if some “U” does it then another “U” will then do it saying that the other “U” does it then before you know it all the “U”s are saying it’s a widespread and “normal” practice.

    And the heck of it is … people are getting education loans to pay for these fees… along with other ..tuition, etc.. it’s all co-mingled and aggregated when it gets rolled into the loan.

    One thing BR could do … is do a comprehensive list of student fees at all Va institutions … and I’m betting that the big sports schools have much higher fees than the non-sports or lower-tier sports schools.

    We, as a society, have accepted the whole “business” of NCAA sports in Education… The scholarships, the food and dining halls, the stadiums and complexes, etc… The claim has been that revenues from broadcasting pays for it all.. the reality is that very few schools ..from what I hear ..less than a handful .. actually are fiscally independent from the Academic side and that student fees are where a lot of the funding actually does come form.

    In fairness… a LOT of people are FINE with their kids getting athletic scholarships – not just the football, basketball… but the other sports like baseball, lacrosse, soccer.. etc.. and it’s appeal is equally to young women.

    If you talk to High School athletics people – they tell you that Sports teaches important life lessons.. in other words.. it’s very legitimate “education” that delivers more than takes especially to kids that actually participate.

    It’s a conundrum. If people .. parents.. students.. alumni.. suport sports and the money spent on sports.. then the argument becomes more nuanced and along the lines of “how much is more than we should” debate.

    I think that’s the Ying and Yang of it.

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