Charleston Southern football players removed the logos from their football helmets before their game at Presbyterian College on Saturday in protest of what they say are longstanding problems with the school's cafeteria.
The primary complaint, according to several sources, is the food selection and hours of operation at the CSU dining hall.
“The quality of food, the quantity of food available, and the fact that the cafeteria closes too early for many football players to eat are the biggest concerns,” said a source with knowledge of the grievances.
The school released the following statement and said CSU President Jairy Hunter would have no further comment:
“We’re dealing with an internal matter. The administration has worked with the football team to resolve the issue. At this time we have no further comments.”
The cafeteria issue is not new, according to a senior on this year's team. He said the players considered a form of protest last season but decided against it after talking with then-head coach Jamey Chadwell.
“He felt it best we focus on football, things we could control, and we agreed,” the player said, speaking on condition of anonymity because team members were told not to speak to the media about the protest.
“This isn’t a protest to slander the school by any means because we are extremely grateful to go to an institution where our education is paid for, but we are trying to raise awareness to people that things need to change,” the senior said.
There are 108 players listed on CSU's football roster. The Buccaneers have brought in additional revenue by playing two Power 5 Conference teams — Mississippi State and Indiana — this year, receiving more than $900,000 for those games.
Former football player Nathan Prater, who last played at CSU in 2015, recalls issues with the cafeteria while he was there but also remembers improvements that were made.
"There were certainly times we arrived after practice to find slim pickings in terms of food," Prater said. "I don't recall it being a constant problem, but there were times where there would not be much left.
"I know while I was there they made some improvements in the dining hall. They added an extra food line and really expanded the salad bar. They did a lot of upgrades to the cafeteria that I think were good."
The senior player, who is one of the leaders on this year's team, said the cafeteria closes too early, making it difficult for players to have enough time to eat and to get enough to eat. The dining hall closes at 7:30 p.m., according to the CSU website.
“The cafeteria runs out of food every so often for dinner, and kids who may come from lower-income families are not able to afford to eat out and spend money. (As a teammate), it’s upsetting. We get out of practice around six o’clock and by the time we make it over there, it’s 6:45 or so. Sometimes they won’t have enough food prepared, and because they close soon after, they won’t prepare more food.”
In addition to the dining hall, Chick-fil-A operates a store on campus, which closes at 8:30 p.m. There also is a coffee shop, Java City, that remains open until 10:30 p.m.
“Again, not a lot of our guys have the money to eat at Chick-fil-A,” the player said.
The football players aren't the only athletes experiencing problems at the dining hall. The volleyball and women's soccer teams also practice late and sometimes get to the cafeteria near closing time.
The dining hall is run independently of the school by Aramark Food Services. A source within the CSU administration said the school is talking with Aramark this week about extending cafeteria hours and making more food available prior to closing.
Adam Blake, director of dining services at CSU and an employee of Aramark, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
At The Citadel, the military school this year entered into a new dining services contract with Sodexo after years with Aramark. Coach Brent Thompson said Sundays are the most challenging day to make sure the players are fed.
"It comes into play mostly on Sundays because that's the day we've got to get all the film out of the way," Thompson said. "But they do a great job of holding the mess hall open until 7:30 p.m. for us. We get the guys off the field at 6 or 6:15 p.m. and tell them to hustle up and get over there. The choices around here are you go to the mess hall or you don't eat.
"But we talk about it every week in our leadership council, if there's anything going on, if they need to put more food out or stay open later. But for the most part we've had no problem with it."
The construction of CSU's new athletic performance center, which will include a dining area and nutrition center for athletes, should help address some of the players' concerns, CSU athletic director Hank Small said.
The center will employ a nutritionist and prepare food for all athletes, Small said. He said the new facility will have expanded operating hours and should be ready to open after the Thanksgiving break.
“The new center will solve a lot of issues and will be a great addition for our student-athletes,” Small said. “And it will be available well into the evenings, making good nutrition accessible to all of our athletes when they need it.”
CSU first-year head football coach Mark Tucker declined comment on the protest.
According to the senior player, the team originally voted to leave the helmet decals off for the remainder of the 2017 season but said the decals will likely go back on the helmets for this weekend’s game against Savannah State at CSU Stadium.
Jeff Hartsell contributed to this report.