Power is in the eye of the beholder

Sports fans and college alumni equate power with the quality and success of their sports teams.

At the NCAA Div. I level, universities use power to flex their muscle to make rules that protect their interests in college athletics. Universities also use that clout to garner huge television contracts, which makes their athletic programs even more powerful.

Successful coaches are extremely powerful and are able to reap multimillion dollar contacts, in part, because of the attention they bring to the university.

Until now, student-athletes didn?t have much clout. But a recent situation at the University of Missouri demonstrated they may have more power than previously thought. The net result is that the usual power brokers are becoming more than a tad nervous.

For all the talk of racial issues and a hunger strike by a student, the tide didn?t turn in favor of the protesting students until the Mizzou football team joined the cause. By refusing to play against BYU unless Missouri system president Tim Wolfe resigned, the power dynamics within college sports may have forever changed.

Make no mistake. The outcome was stunning.

?Coaches and administrators can be divided into two categories: those who adjust the way they deal with athletes, and those who will struggle and even lose their jobs because they refuse,? wrote Sam Mellinger for the Kansas City Star.

This show of unity from the Mizzou football team essentially forced its coach to back its boycott.

?Those in positions of power do not know how to react in the face of fear. Some of them freeze,? said Mellinger. ?It can be a terrifying experience to reach a place of decision-making, personnel management and seven-figure salaries, and then feel the ladder you used to make that climb shake.

?That is what it?s like to be an administrator or a coach at a major university right now.?

Deep in their soul, university administrators know that athletics has too much power. When a football coach is paid $4 million and college tuition is seemingly becoming unaffordable, something is wrong in higher education, even though the two aren?t related.

Universities will tolerate an occasional scandal involving a coach or student-athlete provided the money keeps rolling in. But losing games because of a walkout puts a definite crimp in the revenue stream.

The fact is, it?s the athletes who make it all work.

?Careers, donations, school pride and often the viability of local businesses all depend on college athletes. They have enormous influence,? said Mellinger.

Even a head coach may be unable to stem the tide, even if he wants to. Any coach who fails to support his team?s wishes will have trouble recruiting future student-athletes.

Dennis Dodd, writing for CBSSports.com, said, ?But what?s next? What if players somewhere?anywhere?want winter conditioning at 8 a.m. instead of 6 a.m.? You don?t collectively bargain with a football coach. The only wedge college players have is their bodies. If you don?t have enough of them available, you can?t play.?

The Missouri Tigers have shown us what is possible. Will it happen again? Who can say? But the point is, if it has happened once, there?s nothing to say a walkout can?t happen again.

The Missouri players took a risk. By not playing, they could have technically lost their scholarships.

?That might have happened 50 years ago,? Dodd said. ?In 2015, there would have been a riot.?

Maybe the circumstances at Missouri were extraordinary and unusual, or maybe college athletes are beginning to leverage newfound power. And if history has taught us anything, it?s that in America, just like in the rest of the world, those with power use it.

?The rules are changing,? said Mellinger. ?The huge money generated by college sports has long made this day inevitable. The winners will be the ones who best manage it.?

Hillsboro resident Joe Klein?sasser is director of news and media relations at Wichita State University. He can be reached at Joe.Klein?sasser@wichita.edu.

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