Opinion: NCAA athletes shift balance of power

Matt Poe

For decades now, universities have held the balance of power over their respective student athletes. This may not be the case anymore and years from now, we could look back on the events that transpired at the University of Missouri as a tipping point.

Missouri president Tim Wolfe resigned this past week after a strike by more than 30 members of the university’s football team. Most of the athletes were African-American and the call to action came as a result due to “his negligence toward marginalized students’ experiences.” Players, with support from the coaching staff, threatened to sit out their Nov. 14 contest against Brigham Young University, which would have resulted in $1 million of compensation for the forfeit.

There are a few incidents that led players and students to strike. A swastika written in feces was found in one of the residence hall bathrooms. The student body president proclaimed he was called the n-word, and African-American students rehearsing a school play also stated racial and derogatory terms were yelled at them during the play.

Students pay thousands of dollars to attend college and deserve the right to feel respected by administration and peers.

These issues far outweigh anything that may happen on the football field. However, there are other layers to this story that pertain to the sports world and those developments are significant.

Major universities, like Missouri, earn millions of dollars off of its student-athletes in ticket sales, memorabilia, television ratings and much more.

These same student athletes are forbidden to receive monetary compensation for their likeness being used by the universities, resulting in the boosters and alumni reaping hordes of money that the athletes (essentially workers for the university) never see. When they do receive some form of compensation, it is usually done by selling memorabilia, which is a major violation for the NCAA.

However, I have never been one for student athletes being paid. I fall back on the age-old statement “they receive a great education for free” argument because that is mostly true and their futures are not in playing professional sports.

Ninety-eight percent of college football players never go pro. Less than two percent of college basketball players make it to the NBA. Northwestern University football players threatened to strike and attempted to unionize for better benefits and it was ultimately shot down back in August.  

But the Missouri football team was not striking over monetary compensation. Rather, they initiated these protests over something of greater value: common decency and respect.

In a matter of days, the Missouri football team played a vital role seeing through the resignation of the university’s president and call for better protocol to end racial issues on campus. They did it by simply threatening not to suit up for a game.

Will it become precedent? I am not sure. They did, however, show a glimpse of the potential power these athletes truly have on their universities and there is no price tag for such a thing.

Contact Matt Poe at[email protected].