A Meal Plan at CSUN Not an Easy Recipe : Finances: Structuring a program for all athletes that adheres to NCAA rules and school's budget is challenge.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cal State Northridge's vice president of student affairs will pore over reams of financial date the next few days, seeking answers to several key questions.

Is there truly a need? Can it be done without violating NCAA rules? Can it be done for both men's and women's programs? Can the school afford it?

If nothing else, Ronald R. Kopita already knows one thing: Designing a meal plan for Northridge athletes is easier said than done.

Matador football players drove home their request for a one-meal-per-day "training table" by boycotting practice Monday, only hours after two dozen members of the team met with Kopita for a progress report on the university's efforts to institute such a program.

Dissatisfied by the pace of the administration's efforts, nearly the entire team left the practice field after discussing their concerns with Coach Bob Burt.

On Tuesday, school officials responded by warning players who chose not to practice or play in games that they risked being removed from the team and stripped of their scholarships.

Tuesday, and again Wednesday, all able-bodied players showed up for practice at North Campus Stadium.

Meanwhile, Kopita received outlines on the current financial assistance packages for Northridge athletes. "The first thing we need to look at, is whether the financial needs of the student-athletes are being met," he said.

Several Northridge athletes are on record saying they occasionally go hungry because their scholarship and need-based financial aid benefits do not cover housing, school and meal expenses.

Kopita said he will attempt to determine whether Northridge is responsible in most of those cases, or whether the students spend money frivolously.

"We need to determine if that problem rests with the student or with the institution," Kopita said. "In some cases I've seen, I've been confident (the problem) has been the student."

The demands of Northridge athletes have been taken seriously, Kopita said, but the process of determining a cure for their financial hardship is complex.

"It's not a case of moving fast enough," he said. "It's more a case of determining what we can or can not do."

Estimates for an across-the-board meal plan for all of the school's approximately 150 scholarship athletes have been as high as $80,000, a figure Kopita said is beyond the athletic program's financial means.

He said he is studying a process which would serve the most needy Northridge athletes, regardless of sport.

A training table would be unique in the American West Conference, the first-year, five-team Division I-AA football alliance of which Northridge is a member.

Cal State Sacramento, UC Davis, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Southern Utah provide varying room and board packages to football players during summer workouts, prior to the start of school.

Similarly, Northridge spent $14,000 to house football players in dormitory rooms and feed them two meals a day for nine days in late August, Coach Bob Burt said.

Finding a balance among sports is a tricky proposition, Athletic Director Bob Heigert said, citing the school's men's track and field program as an example.

The school funds an equivalent of only 4.6 athletic scholarships in men's track and field, far short of the 12.6 allowed by the NCAA.

However, once grant funds secured through fund-raising efforts and money track athletes are receiving from need-based, state appropriated financial aid is added, the program approaches the Division I scholarship maximum.

Providing a meal plan--which, according to NCAA guidelines must be counted as scholarship assistance--for all or most of the 55 members of the Matador men's track team might push Northridge past what is allowable.

"I know there are some people in our program, that if they had a training table, some might have to have their scholarship reduced," said Don Strametz, Northridge's track and cross-country coach.

Kopita said he hopes to complete his feasibility study on a meal plan by next week.

In the meantime, organizers of Monday's boycott were buoyed by news Wednesday that Northridge Associated Students will pay for a team meal to be served after practice Thursday.

"That helps," said Vincent Johnson, a starting cornerback. "It shows the support of the Associated Students, but it says nothing about the administration. (The students) took it upon themselves to donate money out of their funds."

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