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Will Missouri Tigers level the football playing field?

Amy Scott Nov 9, 2015
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On the University of Missouri campus in Columbia, protesters took a pause Monday to celebrate the surprise resignation of president Tim Wolfe.

“But I want you all to know that this is a movement, and not a moment, so I expect to see this all the time,” student Andrea Fulgiam said to a cheering crowd.

Wolfe stepped down after weeks of protests by students who said he hadn’t done enough to combat racism on campus. Graduate student Jonathan Butler had been on a hunger strike for a week; faculty members were planning to walk out of class Monday and Tuesday.

And over the weekend, at least 30 Missouri football players said they would not participate in team activities — including this Saturday’s planned game against Brigham Young University. Forfeiting that game would have cost the school a $1 million fine.

“We can only speculate what the conversation was, but there’s no doubt that we’re a business and we’re looking to make money,” said Scott Brooks, an associate professor of Black Studies and Sociology at the university. “That is why we have big-time college sports.”

Wolfe knows well the economic power of college sports. As president, he earned the ire of many students by pushing a $72 million expansion of the football stadium at the same time he raised tuition, and tried to close the university press. More recently, he also cut healthcare subsidies for graduate students.

“He’s a business man, and that’s kind of the model for higher education these days,” said Connor Lewis, a doctoral student at Missouri and organizer with the Forum on Graduate Rights.

The football boycott made a difference, said Lewis, “but also, I think it was really the buy-in from pretty much every level of the university.”

That includes Gary Pinkel, Mizzou’s head football coach. Pinkel tweeted his support for football players on Saturday, saying “The Mizzou Family stands as one.”

The players’ activism could empower college athletes who have been seeking a bigger voice in big-money sports, said Kenneth Shropshire, who teaches the business of sports at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

“That’s kind of the broader impact,” Shropshire said.  “Not just ‘we won’t have our games on Saturday,’ but the recognition of what these young men bring to campuses.” 

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