BYU's upcoming game against Missouri already looked to be an important and interesting matchup. It's the last premier name on BYU's schedule, it'll be in an NFL stadium, it features BYU's excellent QB against a fearsome defensive front of Missouri. But thanks to recent off the field news, the intrigue factor for this game could jump up to a whole new level.
Last night, the black athletes on Missouri's football team announced they would would not participate in any football related activities, including games, until university president Tim Wolfe resigned. Given that 58 of Missouri's 84 scholarship players are black, their absence would put the playing of the game itself in peril.
This is a fast moving story, and we'll update here as we know more, but for now, here's what there is to know.
Why are Missouri football players going on strike?
It isn't about one isolated incident. A student group called Concerned Student 1950 (that's the year Missouri admitted black students) has formed to protest a series of actions on campus relating to what they perceive to be a deteriorating racial environment on campus, and that Wolfe and the university administration have failed to address them properly. There's a solid timeline of everything that has happened on campus over the past few months, but a recent incident involving a swastika being drawn in human feces was one of the boiling points. Members of the football team are joining those protests, and they released a statement last night.
The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe "Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere"
We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students' experiences. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!
Wofle has been under fire from others in the university for other reasons recently, including a decision to cut medical insurance stipends for graduate students, and a controversy involving academic freedom and Planned Parenthood, which sprawled into the Missouri legislature. Racial issues are still a touchy subject across the state of Missouri at the moment as well (Ferguson is about two hours away from campus).
Do these protests have anything to do with BYU?
No, the fact that Missouri is playing BYU next is just a weird little quirk of history. These protests do not appear to have anything to do with BYU, the LDS church, or anything outside of the state of Missouri. Church history in Missouri, or BYU's role in other historical college football race related protests, is just a coincidence.
Do the Missouri coaches know about this? Are they okay with it?
If there has been a lack of support, it hasn't been made public. CB John Gibson tweeted late Saturday night that the protests have nothing to do with Missouri's coaches, and that the staff supports the players, even the white ones. There has not been an official statement by Missouri's head coach, but that could come later today or Monday.
UPDATE: Sunday, 12:43 PM. It appears Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is aware, and okay with this decision.
The Missouri athletic department released a statement late Saturday night as well:
Statement from MU spokesman Chad Moller: pic.twitter.com/vzClRe5b8B— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) November 8, 2015
Could Missouri just cancel their scholarships and play anyway?
Doing so would be a massive PR hit, and almost certainly cripple their football program for years to come. You can't just remove half of your football team, take the L, and expect to bounce back, especially when you play in the SEC and lack much of a margin of error. At this point, there is no indication that the Missouri football program intends to punish any of these players, and if they did, they would have to tread exceptionally carefully.
Could this game get canceled?
There is a non-zero chance of that happening, yes. In 2013, Grambling (FCS) players decided to go on strike to draw attention to the dismal financial state of the program, and ended up forfeiting a game against Jackson State, so it's not like this has never happened before. But given the finances at stake (there's a bit more money involved in an evening SEC Network broadcast than a Jackson State game), and the negative attention that would bring on Missouri, it seems unlikely. But it is possible.
*UPDATE* What would happen to BYU if this game gets canceled?
So what happens next?
This is where we depart from "just the facts" and enter into my speculation.
If Missouri is unable to resolve these issues before Saturday, and the black athletes on the team decide not to play, my gut is that this game doesn't happen. That would be a disaster scenario for the university, depriving them of revenue from the game, a stretch of terrible headlines and PR, while also potentially making racial tensions on campus much worse.
I suspect that all parties will do their very best to prevent that from happening. I would guess that before Friday, some sort of agreement is in place (which may or may not mean Wolfe resigns or is fired) that would allow the players to play, while talks continue. We should know much more by Monday afternoon, but that would be my guess.
We'll share more once we know more. Here's hoping that all fans, BYU and Missouri, can discuss these events with compassion, empathy and restraint, and that everybody is able to work towards a solution.