Successful college campus protests involve money

Emily Greene, Staff Writer

The monster that is Division I  Athletics is showing preposterous growth. According to the NCAA the median Division I athletic department revenue was $6.5 million in 1970. In 2012, it was $56 million. Paul M. Gilbert, author of “Billion-Dollar Ball,” claims that at the top 10 football programs in the country, revenue increased 233 percent from 1999 to 2012. The Federal Education Department estimates that on average football teams are generating 65 percent of the profit for athletic departments in America.

The economic power of college football is a force to be reckoned with and so by extension, college football players are too. In 1969, 14 players were kicked off the Wyoming football team for attempting to wear black armbands to protest racism within the Mormon church during a game against Brigham Young University. Such a dismissal could never happen now because universities could not afford it.

On Nov. 2, a Missouri graduate student named Jonathan Butler announced that he was going on a hunger strike in response to the actions of university president Tim Wolfe, or rather, his lack of action. Butler was a part of campus group Concerned Student 1950 (1950 referencing the year the first black students were admitted at Missouri). All semester, the group had been protesting a lack of diversity among the faculty and pushing for increased diversity and sensitivity trainings on campus. Wolfe brushed aside their concerns, even after a swastika was drawn in a dorm bathroom in feces. Because he never responded properly, Butler felt that he had no choice but to go on a hunger strike with the hopes of ousting Wolfe.

Not even the hunger strike was enough to move Wolfe to action. Butler’s strike was largely ignored by administration until Nov. 7 when the athletes of color on the Mizzou football team released a statement saying that they were standing in solidarity with Butler. The players refused to participate in any practices or games until Butler’s demands were met. Coach Gary Pinkel did not reprimand his players. Instead, he showed his public support.

Just two days after the football team began their protest, Wolfe resigned.

According to USA Today, the Mizzou football team brought in 35.6 million dollars in the 2013-14 school year. And, their decision not to play came a week before a game with Utah State. If the team had refused to play, the school would have owed Utah 1 million dollars for forfeiting. The team forced the administration’s hand.

A single graduate student could be ignored. The single largest income source simply could not. This is the first time a football team has successfully used their status as leverage to make a political change.

It probably will not be the last. Before, incidences like Wyoming were the precedent for football players who thought about lobbying for some sort of change.

However, what happened at Mizzou proved more than anything that these teams are so important to the current system in place at DI schools that they could lobby for almost anything successfully.

Smaller football programs at DII and DIII schools are not earners in the same way that their DI counterparts are. This diminishes the political power of the team as a whole.

A protest staged by the Allegheny College football team would not be taken as seriously because they contribute only a low portion of income to the school. In order to get a response at a smaller school, student activists would have to focus their efforts on admissions offices and the revenues generated by new student tuition.