UCLA spent more than $5.4 million on non-travel meals for the football team in 2019 alone, according to documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times. That figure more than doubled the $2.6 million UCLA spent the year prior, which itself more than doubled what the program spent the year prior to Chip Kelly’s arrival.
The story is the latest example of college football’s continuous battle between investing in athletes and wasteful spending.
“Over the past several years, UCLA Athletics has made a deliberate effort to increase our investment in our student-athletes,” UCLA told the paper. “Among the many places of investment is the important component of nutrition, central to the overall well-being of student-athletes and allowing them to reach their full potential.”
Part of the reason UCLA’s food costs run so high is that the team’s headquarters, the $65 million Wasserman Football Center, does not include a dining hall, meaning all team meals must be catered.
The next-closest school in the Pac-12, Arizona, spent $1.2 million on non-travel meals.
The previous staff provided only one meal a day for the Bruins, but that increased to three to four meals under the Kelly regime — at the request of the players. The program began providing up to three meals per day, plus take-home meals for weekends.
“Me and a lot of the older guys said ‘food,’” former linebacker Josh Woods told the paper. “(Kelly) went out of his way and asked the administration if we could get more resources.”
No one would argue proper nutrition is essential to any football team, but does that commitment really require spending $40,000 to import meals from a barbecue restaurant in Arizona or purchasing PB&Js at $5 a pop, as UCLA did?
While there are legitimate questions on if those meals are the best use of UCLA’s funds, the LA Times also found a professor who managed to argue that it was the athletes who somehow got the raw end of the deal in having grass-fed flank steak, sweet potato hash with diced chicken and chocolate-chip pancakes catered on their behalf.
“It is a coach’s dream to control every aspect of his players’ lives,” Coastal Carolina professor Nick Schlereth told the paper. “Food is another way they can do it.”