When College Football is no longer about Football

Back in November, for sale I followed the story about the Missouri football team boycott which ultimately led to the resignation of the university’s President and Chancellor.  The team’s boycott was in response to a student movement, tadalafil including a hunger strike by one student, advice claiming that the school had not done enough to deal with racism on campus.  The story garnered little national attention until the football team united together and threatened to boycott all football activities, including the upcoming game against BYU, unless the President resigned.  I was conflicted about the story then, and I remain so today.

The power this college football team had to instantly grab attention and cause the resignation of two of the university’s highest ranking officials was stunning. Not only did the story dominate the headlines once the football team got involved, but the issue of racism on college campuses was instantly brought to the forefront of the news cycle. The President and Chancellor’s resignations were not in response to a major address by a civil rights leader, political figure, or world scholar.  This was a football team threatening a boycott of a game that some argued had little meaning to the team’s season since Mizzou was not in the hunt for the SEC title. And we have to wonder, would the team have boycotted if the season had been on the line?

It is no secret that Mizzou would have lost $1 million if the football team boycotted the game.  That had to get university officials, the athletic department, boosters, and season ticket holders anxious – to say the least.  So this week a Missouri legislator introduced a bill  in the state legislature that would have caused university athletes to lose their scholarships if they refused to play in a game for any reason other than injury. Let’s think about this:  If the bill passed, it would have been illegal under Missouri law for student athletes to have refused to play in a game for any reason other than an injury.  What could possibly go wrong under a law like that?  There are so many problems I don’t know where to start.

Think the NCAA might want a say in what would constitute a student athlete losing his or her scholarship rather than a state law dictating such terms? Are student athletes now considered university employees?  Somehow I think that NCAA is going to have a problem with that one. And what about the First Amendment?  Yes, no issues there. Thankfully, that bill was withdrawn later this week. But its introduction has done exactly what its sponsors had wanted – created a discussion about how much power is too much power to hand to student athletes.

We know the athletes in this country have a tremendous amount of influence given their endorsement deals, access to mainstream media, and wealth.  But it is not only professional athletes that have this platform.  At a school such as Missouri where the football team is such an integral part of that school’s identity and tradition, when they unite for a cause, there is an instantaneous response.  Their platform is enormous on a college campus – and even nationally.  This Missouri football team clearly identified with and was passionate about their united mission.  The question then becomes, where do we go from here?  Are college sports teams now in a position to threaten to boycott over larger political issues that they feel passionate about?  What if they are all not united?

I don’t have an answer for this, and I suspect most university officials do not either – yet.  The consequences, both financially and structurally, could be devstating for a program if it actually had to forfeit money into the millions of dollars because its team would not take the field.  Entire recruiting strategies would suffer if a program’s instability was evident. Therefore, this is not an easy issue and it will undoubtably develop over the next several months and years.  But one thing is for sure:  Sports are powerful and influential well beyond the actual game.  But then again, we all knew that, right?

 

Category: NCAA

About the author: Raised in the western suburbs of Chicago, Michelle is a family law attorney by day and an avid Cubs, Bears and Bulls fan by night. Michelle’s favorite sports memories are watching Michael Jordan play in the ’98 NBA Finals at the United Center and most recently, cheering loudly when the Cubs beat the Cardinals to clinch their first playoff series at Wrigley. She graduated from Indiana University (Go Hoosiers!) with a degree in journalism and received her J.D. from St. Louis University. She is constantly searching for “more time” and believes that “Next year really is the year!”

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