Money Or Justice? The Fallout From The University Of Missouri

The University of Missouri’s football team stumbled upon the missing piece in any social activism campaign: hit them in the pockets.

On Saturday, Mizzou's athletes of color, through the University of Missouri’s Legion of Black Collegians, chose to take a stand in response to what they see is the University’s failure to adequately address the brewing racial tension on the university’s campus. Their statement:

“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!!!!!”

While the campus had seen an uptick in racially charged events since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown two hours east of the campus in Ferguson, Mo., just the recent timeline of events is troubling, with frustrations coming to a head as the team’s black players — 58 of the team’s 84 scholarship football players are black — refused to participate in football-related activities.

While the president had seemingly failed to show an adequate response to student concern over events in the recent past, this strike by the football players more than hit a nerve. On Monday, not even 48 hours after the strike began, Wolfe resigned.

I’d argue that Wolfe would have been fired had he not resigned so quickly.

At Missouri, like most other Division I schools, football is king. The university currently offers 18 sports to its student athletes, with all sports generating approximately $83 million in 2014, up from $76 million in 2013. Missouri’s football revenue accounted for 42.5% ($35 million against $21 million in expenses) of the athletics department revenue in 2014 and 41.7% ($31 million against $17 million in expenses) in 2013.

When your football program accounts for such a large portion of your sports revenue pie, a prolonged strike would all but cripple the university’s sports programs as merchandise dollars, concession sales, television monies and gate receipts are all predicated on the actual playing of football games. Could the athletic department’s budget survive two months without football? One month? How does the SEC revenue-sharing model work if the team failed to play out the remainder of the season?

Lost revenue from not playing aside, how do you explain the situation to future boosters and sponsors? Future recruits? It is truly a PR nightmare.

Make no mistake, those questions had moved beyond the theoretical and into the practical. Even if the university had tried to field a team without the striking players … who else would play, and who would be their coach?

A potentially long strike notwithstanding, the university faced a steep payment, were it unable to field a team against BYU this week:

The parties agree that if one party cancels, forfeits, unilaterally delays or postpones, or fails to appear at, any game (there and similar actions hereafter referred to as "cancel"), actual damages — including those relating to public relations, radio and television broadcasts, lost profits, and other consequential damages — would be difficult or impossible to calculate. The parties further agree that processes, including litigation, to determine damages would be both unnecessarily expensive and time-consuming. Therefore, the parties agree that if one party cancels (hereafter, the "defaulting party") any game or games, the defaulting party shall pay as liquidated damages to the other party One Million Dollars ($1,000,000) for each cancelled game, to be paid no later than thirty (30) days following the scheduled game. (Full contract here, per Kansas City Star )

That million-dollar liquidated damages payment doesn’t even take into account the lost revenue on in-stadium merchandise sales, concessions, gate receipts and the like. For comparison’s sake, Tim Wolfe made $459,000 during the 2014-15 school year. For further comparison, head coach Gary Pinkel is the 20th highest paid coach in the nation, pulling in $3.7 million this year. From a purely business perspective, the numbers simply did not add up. Wolfe had to go.

Which brings us back to the students themselves. What they were able to do in a two-day span is unprecedented. They forced the resignation of not only the president of their school, but hours after Wolfe's resignation, the university's chancellor stepped down as well. This is all in large part because their status as football players took them beyond the common collective, and they had the ability to immediately alter the school's balance sheet.

Of course, now that the protest has been successful and the bad actors have been removed, only time will tell if Missouri is truly looking to bring about social change on its campus or if it really is all about the money.

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