CSUN Players End Practice Boycott After Meeting With Hiegert : Athletic Director Refuses to Promise Meal Plan Sought by Team

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cal State Northridge football players got back to business Tuesday, but not business as usual.

Having refused to practice a day earlier, the Matadors were more than an hour late starting their afternoon workout at the North Campus training field after team members met with Bob Hiegert, the school's athletic director.

Hiegert called the meeting because nearly the entire team boycotted Monday's practice, protesting the lack of a meal plan for Northridge athletes.

Players expecting concessions were sorely disappointed. Hiegert began his approximately 20-minute talk by issuing an ultimatum, warning players who chose not to practice or play in games that they risked being stripped of their scholarships.

Hiegert also said, "If we have enough players do this, and we don't have enough players to compete with, and we think we are going to injure the health and safety of those who are left, we'll probably discontinue the program."

All of the players returned to practice.

Linebacker O.J. Ojomoh, cornerback Ralph Henderson, defensive tackle Victor Myles and punter Albert Razo said that they, and the majority of their teammates, were ready to put Monday's act of disobedience behind them.

"That's over with," Myles said. "We're down to football business."

Others, including cornerback Vincent Johnson, were not so sure.

Johnson, who along with safety Gerald Ponder helped organize Monday's practice boycott, said Hiegert's tough-talk approach "got people out on the (practice) field, but people still may not get on that bus" to travel to Nevada Las Vegas, site of Northridge's nonconference game Saturday night. The Matadors, who had a bye last weekend, are 1-3 in nonconference games.

"It may not be solved," Johnson said. "Instead of working with us and dealing with us, they threatened us."

Hiegert said school administrators are struggling to find a way to help Northridge athletes whose basic expenses surpass their scholarship and financial aid allotments.

The Northridge football team divides 17 athletic scholarships among more than 60 players, with a typical player receiving about $1,000 per semester.

"I told them the vice president (Ronald Kopita) is working on it," Hiegert said, referring to a meal plan. "I also told them the process was more complicated than it was meant to be, or seems like it is."

Hiegert said that should a meal plan instituted, it would be for all Northridge athletes and that initial estimates place the annual cost of providing one meal a day to each athlete during their season of competition as high as $80,000.

Asked if such funds were available, Hiegert replied: 'We don't have the resources to solve it. It's a problem, not just in our program but I think across the country. There's just not enough scholarship money to go around to take care of all needs."

Year-around "training tables" for athletes are common at major colleges, according to Steve Morgan, staff liaison to the NCAA Financial Conditions Committee. The NCAA already has passed legislation restricting training tables beginning in 1996, and proposals to impose further limits will be considered at a convention of member schools in January.

Northridge is a charter member of the Division I-AA American West Conference, along with Cal State Sacramento, UC Davis, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Southern Utah, schools which similarly lack training tables.

All of those schools--including Northridge--provide meals for football players during summer training camp, before classes begin.

"I think (the players) down there have it a little better than they think," Southern Utah Coach Jack Bishop said. At Southern Utah, athletes are charged $100 each for housing and two meals a day during six weeks of summer and fall training.

"We call it a camp fee," Bishop said. "Once school starts, they are on their own."

At Northridge, players are housed in dormitories and fed three meals a day for nine days of summer drills at a cost to the football program of $14,000, Coach Bob Burt said.

"These guys have concerns and they have a right to voice those concerns," Burt said. "They were given an opportunity today to say or do what they wanted to do, and they did. I don't anticipate we're going to have further problems."

Northridge's commitment to its student-athletes has been the target of several protests in the past two years.

Two weeks ago, during the the Matadors' 39-0 victory over Sonoma State, members of the Black Student Athletes Assn. picketed behind the Northridge bench. One of the protesters, BSAA president Patrick Johnson, quit the team one week before the start of the season complaining that teammates were living in poverty because their partial football scholarships did not cover tuition, books and living expenses.

Along with Black Student Union members Troy Strange and Fabian Speights, Johnson waited outside the Matador locker room Tuesday while his former teammates met with Hiegert. Afterward, he quietly spoke with several players.

Johnson accused administrators of "strong-arm tactics" but said he was not disappointed that the players were resuming practice.

"The athletic department is, in essence, saying, 'We'd rather cut your throat than feed you,' " Johnson said. "How can you expect them to quit when they have a whip at their back? This is their livelihood, their school money."

Vincent Johnson, a junior who played at Cleveland High, said he regretted suggesting Monday's boycott--but only because the players tipped their hand.

"If we would have practiced Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then talked about it Thursday and not got on the bus (on Friday), they wouldn't have had time. It would have been all done."

UNLV is paying Northridge a guarantee of $35,000 to play Saturday night's game at the Silver Bowl.

"As they say," Burt quipped, "We're going to Vegas and let the chips fall where they may."

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