The NCAA and 'The Big Buffet.' (Restaurant Column by Student Football Player Anthony Ingrassia Violates National Collegiate Athletic Association Bylaws)

Article excerpt

LAST SUMMER, ANTHONY Ingrassia gulped down 13 bowls of spaghetti in a $2.95, all-you-can-eat pasta contest at a Gainesville, Fla., restaurant.

Ingrassia's feat in what the eatery called the Challenge Bowl broke the local record by three full plates and earned him the nickname, "The Big Buffet."

Still, the 300-pound offensive lineman for the University of Florida (UF) football team remained largely unknown outside the state.

That changed when the football season began, and Ingrassia started writing a column called "Anthony Digests" for the weekly arts and entertainment section of the campus newspaper.

Ingrassia's comic food reviews of restaurants and fast food emporiums became a major readership hit for the Independent Florida Alligator.

He used football helmets to judge the quality of the food and service.

"A rating of five helmets means I was drooling happily all over myself as I was rolled out of the establishment," Ingrassia said in his opening column last September.

On the other hand, a one-helmet verdict was a signal to take your knife and fork someplace else.

When Ingrassia hurt his knee after the football season began, he critiqued eight pizza parlors based on how fast they delivered their slices as well as on the quality of their toppings.

Takeouts that took forever were deemed tasteless and accorded a one-helmet label.

Ingrassia's ability to eat, and write about it, was chronicle in the Gainesville Sun, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and assorted Florida television stations.

He was on course to recast single-handedly the negative image of college football linemen, when his own school reported him to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Jamie McCloskey, associate athletic director of the University of Florida, asked the association to decide if Ingrassia's helmet ratings had broken any rules.

"We wanted to make sure Anthony wasn't violating the NCAA bylaws by endorsing a commercial enterprise," said McCloskey. "We didn't want him suspended from the football team."

McCloskey, a former staff member of the NCAA, was hired three years ago by the university after it had been placed on probation for a shopping list of recruiting violations.

The NCAA told Ingrassia on Sept. 29 to stop writing while it debated the issue, but reinstated him three weeks later after a chorus of catcalls from media and First Amendment experts was raised.

But the NCAA ruled at the same time that college athletes no longer will be allowed to write for any profit-making media organizations -- whether they're college or professional.

Andrew DeClerq, a University of Florida basketball player, was the first victim of the new policy.

DeClerq played for a Unites States Goodwill Games team that toured Russia last summer and submitted a diary of his adventures to the Sun.

The NCAA would not let the paper use it.

"It was ridiculous," said Noel Nash, the sports editor. "We weren't paying him. It wasn't as if we were going to make a million dollars because we printed his diary."

The publishing of a player's first person experiences has been a popular feature in magazines and newspapers.

Anthony digests ruling

Ingrassia, who was paying for the food he was reviewing, and not receiving any compensation from the Daily Alligator, was stunned by the commotion.

"I guess they figured athletes didn't have the same First Amendment rights as other people," he said in an interview.

"Maybe they didn't think I was writing my own stuff. There is still that stereotype around that athletes aren't concerned about an education."

Ingrassia said the NCAA was being hypocritical by killing his column on the one hand, while forcing him, on the other, to wear and drink products that his university was being paid to promote. …