Competitive Eating in the NCAA

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The sport of competitive eating. Yes, I said sport.
Competitive eating has all the trappings of a sport. It has the International Federation of Competitive Eating to sanction and supervise events worldwide. There are strategies and training regimens for top competitors, cash prizes that can be upward of $30,000, ESPN televised coverage of its marquee events, and even a video game (Major League Eating for Wii). I’d say it’s at least as much of a sport as Olympic ice dancing.

A newly-formed competitive eating team at the University of Maryland is making a bid for intercollegiate glory.
It’s not the first college team. That distinction belongs to The University at Albany, a campus of the State University of New York. But the Maryland crew, perhaps because it shares the campus with so many powerhouse teams of the NCAA, is especially ambitious. It’s hired a collegiate branding and marketing firm to recruit students at other schools to launch eating teams on their campuses, and has arranged the first intercollegiate meet, set for April 16 in College Park.

Competitive eating languished for years in county fair obscurity, but has seen a surge in popularity to become one of the nation’s fastest growing spectator sports. It’s a field populated by characters like Dave ‘Coondog’ O’Karma (a man who can eat a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts in one minute), Arnie “Chowhound” Chapman (undisputed world pickle eating champion at 3.15 lbs of pickles in five minutes), and ‘Furious’ Pete Czerwinski (multiple record holder in pulled pork, potato latkes, and Reuben sandwiches).

Really Big Men on Campus
There is no particular body type for champion eaters. The sport has its share of plus-sized competitors, like a pair of 400+ pound New Yorkers, subway conductor Eric ‘Badlands’ Booker (record holder for onions, corned beef hash, cheesecake, and burritos)  Ed ‘Cookie’ Davis (specialist in cannoli, dumplings, and grapes); but currently ranked #2 in the world is Takeru ‘the Tsunami’ Kobayashi, a svelte 5’8″ and 128 pounds. The size of the stomach at rest is of little consequence: competition-grade overeating is achieved through a combination of body conditioning (repeated stretching of the stomach through overfilling) and sheer willpower. Some competitors believe that less body fat is advantageous because it gives the stomach more room to expand.

As unhealthy as this all sounds, let’s not forget the health risks of other student athletes, especially college football players who incur brain, bone, and joint injuries at alarming rates. And according to the American College of Sports Medicine, two-thirds of all Division I linemen are considered obese.

College-level competitive eating will not be an officially recognized NCAA sport until there are 50 club teams nationwide. For now, the Maryland Terrapins have more than 40 members, a constitution, a faculty adviser, and their first intercollegiate event on the horizon.
Next on the wishlist: uniforms. With elastic waists.

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