On Nov. 9, President of the University of Missouri Timothy Wolfe resigned from his post due to numerous racial protests. Perhaps the most significant influence impacting his action was the threatened boycotting of a football game by several African American football players, who were then joined by many of their teammates and their coach Gary Pinkel. Although other racial protests likely impacted Wolfe’s decision to resign, the boycott of the football game was announced on Sunday and Wolfe resigned on Monday.
While in this instance, the actions of a Division I football team had a substantial and positive impact on their campus community and helped to spark nationwide discussions about race on campuses, the quick compliance with the singular demand of their boycott is also indicative of the tremendous influence football has within Division I schools.
Prior to the resignation of Wolfe, racial protests had been materializing for months at University of Missouri. Sure, one graduate student had been on a hunger strike for several days by the time Wolfe resigned. But, according to the New York Times, forfeiting the game would have cost the University over $1 million. This seemingly spurred Wolfe’s resignation, but also helped to further unite campus activists and gave the movement a serious boost.
Once again, money is the reason behind the immense power football teams wield on Division I campuses. In 2014, the football team brought $83,718,587 in revenue to the University. According to USA Today, the football program still received around $1.5 million in subsidies. The expenses of the team add up to about $80 million.
Although this may seem like a lot of money, especially since this isn’t the NFL, Mizzou isn’t even the program that makes the most money. In fact University of Missouri is ranked No. 32 in total revenue of Division I football teams in 2014. USA Today identifies that the team with the greatest revenue, Oregon, brought in close to $200 million. No wonder schools will do just about anything to keep their football programs happy and successful.
The large amounts of money in Division I football programs across the country gives players and coaches a lot of heft with college administrations. Although in the case of Mizzou, football players used their power for good, so to speak, many football programs get away with a lot because of how much money the school receives from their sport. Past incidences of academic fraud have kept players eligible. Players get away with conduct infractions other students would be punished much more stringently for, all in the name of keeping the players on the field.
To restore the integrity of football programs, we need to take the money out of the sport at the Division I level. Obviously as a nation we are way too invested in the spectacle of the game to deeply reduce the marketing and advertising that goes into each game. However, with the amount of money in football only increasing, institutions are essentially run by their sports programs. Allowing these athletes academic and behavioral leeway because of their involvement in a sport runs contrary to the values of both education and athletics.
Sports programs, but especially football, have too much influence over the institutions that fund and support them. If all football teams used their influence to spark important discussions or as a platform for activism, the amount of money in football programs could be a positive thing. However, this is not the case. Playing football has become a type of privilege on college campuses that allows both the program and the player too much free reign. The ridiculous amount of money in football programs is bad for Division I institutions and bad for the nature of the sport itself.