“It’s hard to rally around a math class.” — Bear Bryant, on football’s role on campus.
Football can be classified as a game or sport. And in the South, it has been called a religion. Now, it has become a tool for campus activism, as well as a method of economic development.
The news this week that the University of Missouri System president had resigned in the wake of student protests that involved the school’s football team is the latest example of the clout that the sport holds in the 21st century.
Excerpts from an article in The Washington Post (also linked to above) explain well how the Missouri student-athletes leveraged their influence:
First, the team is the public face of the student body. Any number of people who live in the state but don’t have relatives in the University of Missouri system likely know student-athletes by name. …
Second, the team leveraged pressure on an immediate timeline. Next Saturday, the Missouri Tigers are scheduled to play the Brigham Young Cougars. As Saturday neared, the school was under increasing pressure to resolve the dispute as public attention to the conflict continued to grow. …
Third, the team’s protest threatened immediate economic damage to the university. This is perhaps the biggest issue at play. A contract between Missouri and BYU obtained by the Kansas City Star reveals that cancellation on the part of the Tigers would result in a $1 million fine to be paid to BYU within 30 days of the cancellation. …
And the players’ tactic worked. With the 24/7 media environment we have today, it’s a matter of time before it is used again.
The financial influence of college sports, particularly in the Southeastern Conference, also was evident recently when Alabama, the nation’s most successful team in recent years, hosted LSU. The game prompted The New York Times to do a lengthy piece on the financial success that the Alabama football program has achieved, and how that has had a strong influence on the university in general.
From that article (linked to above):
In the last decade, enrollment (at Alabama) has increased by more than 55 percent, to a record 37,100 students this fall, and more than half of the students now are from out of state, another seismic shift. The acceptance rate in the last decade fell to 54 percent, from 72 percent. This year, 2,261 freshmen are enrolled in its Honors College, two and half times the number 10 years ago. Its 174 National Merit and National Achievement finalists rank Alabama among the top five public universities.
Thirty-four years later, the collegiate merchandise market takes in $4.6 billion in annual sales. In 2007, IMG, the global sports management conglomerate, bought (Alabama Athletic Director Bill) Battle’s (licensing) company, along with access to his 200 clients, for a reported price of more than $100 million. And licensing remains a healthy revenue stream for Alabama; under its current contract, (Battle’s company) guaranteed Alabama $9 million this year and $103 million through the 2024-25 season.
So the financial clout of college football, particularly in the Southeastern Conference, is obvious. And now it has become a social tool.
And the sport’s attraction is spreading. Several schools in Georgia have started programs in recent years, such as Georgia State, Kennesaw State and Mercer.
“No other part of the university can extend” the culture and the brand of a university like a football program can, former University of Georgia football coach and athletic director Vince Dooley told me recently. (We had initially hooked up to discuss another matter.)
Dooley was speaking by telephone from Kennesaw State, where he is consulting on the school’s young football program.
And now, the athletes have newfound power. It’s not just a game any more.
— What do you think of recent events involving college football? Leave a comment below.