The Missouri Football Conversation

Following a series of reported racist incidents at the University of Missouri, President Tim Wolfe deemed it necessary to step down from his position as the face of the university.

Students had reported multiple cases of racist activity on the grounds of the Missouri campus, yet felt that Wolfe and the university were reluctant to respond. As a result, students, professors, and other members of the Missouri community protested for the removal of Wolfe from the presidency, a call that was ultimately fulfilled.

Current racial tensions demand to be addressed, however, this article is not meant to be a participant in that discussion. The spotlight on Missouri not only brought the prevalent racial conversations into public light yet again, but also illuminated the power and the influence of the collegiate athlete within the university system. This illumination is the primary focus.

Members of the University of Missouri football team stated that they would not participate in any team activities until Wolfe’s immediate resignation. If the university were forced to cancel the upcoming weekend game against BYU, it would cost them upwards of one million dollars.

While there were undoubtedly many factors that played into Wolfe’s resignation, including the student and faculty protests, it is interesting to consider the particular influence that the football team had on this campus-wide decision. The University of Missouri is not only a place where students of numerous races and ethnicities receive a higher education, it is also a business. To suddenly lose a million-dollar weekend would, understandably, hurt the school’s business.

The football team’s walkout forced Wolfe’s resignation through exerting economic power, which was not only an attempt to soothe racial tensions, but also necessitated a business move necessary for the university’s welfare. It seems a legitimate inference to say that the deciding factor in Wolfe’s resignation was ultimately the football team’s protests.

If a college football team can (note, I recognize the students’ protests as well in influencing the university’s decision, though I believe the team’s walkout was the straw that broke the camel’s back) cause the resignation of a school president, it seems an appropriate next step to take a closer look at the social power of the collegiate athlete.

Intercollegiate sports bring in an unprecedented amount of money to universities. For an example regarding the amount of money that changes hands within college sports, consider this: all of Division III sports are funded by the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. Yes, all of Division III sports are funded by one basketball tournament.

If you take all the various sports offered by the 1,100 schools that make up the NCAA and add up the revenue they collectively bring in, it is truly mind-boggling. In short, sports make money for universities. The fact that these sports are played by student-athletes makes the student-athlete an economic force to be reckoned with.

To many, the influence of the student-athlete on the well-being of a college or university supports the argument that NCAA athletes should be paid, though personally I’ve not quite bought into that argument just yet. As an active student-athlete, participating in intercollegiate sports is something that I desire to do, not something for which I require compensation, as a job. While student-athletes do the “job” of bringing in money for colleges and universities, there doesn’t seem to be a lack of students willing to play sports for the pure enjoyment of it.

The opportunity to wear your school’s uniform and to continue playing a sport you love seems to be payment enough for most student-athletes. On top of this, a large percentage of student-athletes participating in the “revenue sports” (Division I football and basketball) are on scholarship, saving them thousands upon thousands of dollars in tuition and housing—a type of payment, in my opinion.

On the other hand, however, there are legitimate arguments for the payment of student-athletes as well. All of this exemplifies that student athletes have a considerable voice in the university system. Whether this voice demands that colleges begin paying their athletes or simply that they continue to treat them as essential members of the university community is debatable.

Apart from the various views on the appropriateness of the responses in Missouri, the actions of the University of Missouri’s football team serve as a good reminder for all student-athletes of the ability of the student-athlete to enact change within the university system.