7-Step Drop: Missouri Football Players' Stance a Turning Point for NCAA Athletes

Bryan Fischer@BryanDFischerNational College Football Columnist November 9, 2015

Students dance following University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe's resignation announcement Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, at the school in Columbia, Mo. The president resigned Monday with the football team and others on campus in open revolt over his handling of racial tensions at the school. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

A key part of why football has become so popular is because it is one of the most exhilarating forms of entertainment around. For three to four hours every Saturday, at home or in a stadium, we can sit back and forget about our issues, fears, anxiety and the world at large.

For a short time at least, the focus is elsewhere. It is not the here and the now as much as the down and the distance. Our stomachs churn not because of our bank accounts or family issues, but because of what a group of 18- to 24-year-olds is doing between the lines.

Yet it would be disdainful to label football a sport for entertainment purposes only. It is so much more than that, as we saw this week. When it comes to colleges across the country, that is doubly true.

Talk to any university president, athletic director or administrator involved in any way in development (a college athletics codeword for fundraising), and you'll find out that all are fond of saying football is the front porch of the university. They say it because it's true. Wins and losses on the gridiron don't mean everything to schools, but it's undeniable the impact they have on large swaths of people across the country each and every weekend—and long after that.

Look no further than last week's piece on Alabama in the New York Times, which noted how Nick Saban's Crimson Tide has "served as the catalyst for more than $1.7 billion in [general] fundraising." Is the number that high if the team isn't in contention for the national title every season? Even the most ardent booster would tell you no.

Which brings us to Missouri.

For most folks, the inability of the Tigers offense to score a touchdown was the biggest storyline entering and exiting their loss to Mississippi State on Thursday. Not 48 hours later, the storyline was very different.

My colleague over at SB Nation, Missouri graduate and Columbia resident Bill Connelly, did a great job explaining in this piece the nuances of what has been happening in the town and the football team's strike, which have already evoked change on campus and will likely continue to alter life in the community in the coming months.

On Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the Tigers football team publicly stood in unison with the Concerned Student 1950 group, University of Missouri System president Tim Wolfe announced his resignation.

"To our students, from Concerned Student 1950 to grad students, football players and other students, the frustration and anger I see is clear, real. I don't doubt it for a second," Wolfe said, according to David Morrison of the Columbia Tribune. "Please, please use this resignation to heal, not to hate. And let's move forward together for a brighter tomorrow."

The act diffused much of the tension on campus and will, hopefully, allow all sides to come together and move forward in Columbia. Regardless of where you stand on the issues at Missouri, a peaceful solution that allows everybody to address the matters at hand is a positive step.

But if there is one takeaway from all that has gone on at Mizzou in the past few days, it's that student-athletes, and football players in particular, are no longer just names and numbers. They form a powerful group that is just scratching the surface of its potential for societal change inside and outside its university communities. More to the point, players are now combining that power with an unfiltered medium: social media.

To be fair, the football team's strike was not the only reason Wolfe was forced to step down. According to AJ Perez of USA Today, a Mizzou faculty group planned a walkout to protest "a ... lack of response to racial harassment at the school" well before Wolfe faced the media Monday. Faculty and students, even more than any team, are fundamental to a university. It could be argued that that group was the straw that broke the camel's back. But, make no mistake, the involvement of the football team brought more attention to an issue that few had heard or cared about.

Since the players are the names and faces on the front porch of the university, their actions meant quite a bit. In the coming days and weeks, they could mean even more.

As one Power Five athletic director recently told me, lawsuits and the resulting fundamental changes to the NCAA model they may bring are one of the top three challenges he faces on a weekly basis. It's not just the fallout from the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit, but even greater threats on the horizon.

What should scare him and other administrators around the country is that the Missouri situation could mark a turning point for college athletes in having their voices heard. No longer will athletic directors be the ones deciding the future of their departments; the players who wear their school logo with pride will have a large say as well.

In many ways, what happened at Missouri is the latest in a long line of similar crusades. There was Northwestern's union movement. An Illinois player tweeting about coach mistreatment led to that head coach getting dismissed and, on this same Monday, the school announced the release of a 1,200-page report and the dismissal of its AD. Two years ago, Grambling players boycotted due to conditions at the school.

All of these events should be seen as precursors to athletes getting a formal seat at the table.

In a telling move, the Pac-12 last month added student-athletes to its governance structure as a way to get in front of such changes. It shouldn't take much longer before that happens in Indianapolis, and I'm not talking about a few student representatives speaking in front of NCAA committees.

What happened in Columbia may just be a seminal moment in college athletics. At this point, one can't dismiss it as a blip on the radar.

Players will have a voice at the table in college athletics moving forward. As the most recognizable names and faces at just about every university, it's about time they did.

Stats of the Week

  • Ohio State's sports information department did some digging and came up with this: Urban Meyer's 47-3 start at Ohio State is the best in modern college football history and the third-best of all time in the sport behind Michigan's Fielding Yost and Washington's Gil Dobie.
  • Meyer's Buckeyes also tied the record for consecutive regular-season conference victories this past weekend with No. 29. They can move past Florida State's 1992-95 streak with a win against Illinois on Saturday.
  • Oklahoma notes that the Sooners moved to 50-0 when scoring 50 or more points under Bob Stoops.
  • Wisconsin quarterback Tanner McEvoy has thrown five career touchdown passes. Wide receiver Tanner McEvoy has five career catches. Safety Tanner McEvoy has picked off five passes.
  • Despite a subpar game against Alabama, LSU tailback Leonard Fournette still leads college football in rushing yards and rushing yards per game.
  • Bedlam in the backfield? Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are tied for second in the country in sacks with 33 apiece. National leader Penn State has 41.
  • LSU committed just its third turnover of the season against Alabama.
  • The AAC is home to the country's best turnover margins: Houston leads the nation at plus-16, while Navy is tied for second at plus-12. The teams will square off Nov. 27 in a league finale.

Quote of the Week

Arizona State was embroiled in a sign-stealing controversy last week following its game against Oregon. So, after beating the Sun Devils on Saturday, Washington State head coach Mike Leach delivered this one-liner:

Tweet of the Week

Play of the Week

Sound from Saturday

Pre-Snap Reads

Oklahoma at Baylor

The Bears have had the Sooners' number the past few seasons. But after an inexplicable loss to Texas, Oklahoma turned into one of the better teams in the country behind Baker Mayfield and Co. and has been destroying its competition. Baylor struggled with its first decent opponent of the season, Kansas State, and things are only going to get tougher from here on out. The homestanding Bears might have the edge, but it's a slight one.

Alabama at Mississippi State

The Crimson Tide have typically been a little sluggish after playing LSU, and that means this is a trap game. The Bulldogs aren't quite as good as their record suggests, but they're solid across the board and have Dak Prescott, the best quarterback in the SEC. Mississippi State's spread offense and Prescott's mobility could give Alabama fits, so expect this game to be closer than it looks on paper.

Memphis at Houston

This AAC showdown lost some luster thanks to Navy's upset of the Tigers on Saturday, but it remains a huge game in the race for the Group of Five bid. Memphis remains dangerous on offense with quarterback Paxton Lynch calling the shots, but it has to turn things around on defense if it harbors any hope of stopping Cougars signal-caller Greg Ward Jr. Don't be shocked if Houston survives because of a turnover; the Cougars lead the nation with 25 takeaways.

Bryan Fischer is Bleacher Report's national college football columnist. All quotes and stats obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bryan on Twitter @BryanDFischer.

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