I do not envy the place Missouri AD Mack Rhoades finds himself occupying these days. His department is paying a price for the football players’ threatened boycott: a hostile legislature, a decline in contributions due in some part to donors’ reactions to what happened and, as we saw last week, an administration that doesn’t seem particularly adept at managing the situation.
What he’s left with is trying to hold both ends against the middle, which is how you get to a mixed message like this:
University rules include sanctions, up to losing a scholarship, for athletes who do not meet their scholarship obligations.
“There is an expectation that our student-athletes practice, play, go to class and be responsible socially,” Missouri Athletic Director Mack Rhoades said. “There is absolutely that expectation of our student-athletes.”
The player boycott was an extraordinary situation and the athletic department is working to prevent a repeat, he said.
“For us, this is about creating an environment where our student-athletes never feel that they have to go to that measure,” Rhoades said.
On one level, there is definitely a certain amount of “what else can he say?” at work here. As Bill Connelly notes, attempting to placate the Missouri legislature is a goal here, although that may be a fool’s errand.
And regarding further protests … Hank Foley needs to be careful. He appears to have convinced himself that he needs to talk tough to make the legislature happy — he’s prboably right, though I’m not particularly convinced anything is going to make the legislature happy, and they’re making Foley and Mike Middleton go through an elaborate song-and-dance before wrecking Mizzou’s funding (further) regardless — but he’s also putting Mack Rhoades in a tough spot.
I mean, do these really sound like the kind of people who are going to be satisfied with Rhoades’ proposed “environment”? Hardly.
But think about what’s on the other side of the divide. Say there’s another player boycott threatened and this time the school makes good on its threat by revoking the scholarships of 30+ football players. That would result in about 40% of the football team being gone. It would take years to replace the numbers, given the scholarship restraints in place, and that’s assuming Missouri would ever be able to regain traction recruiting black student-athletes after such a decision. (The negative recruiting – “A kid can get in trouble with the law in Columbia, Missouri, and remain on the team, but let him speak his mind and look what happens!” – almost writes itself.)
In essence, the school would likely be creating its own private death penalty. That should go over well with the rest of the SEC. So Rhoades is justified in trying his damnedest to find a way to defuse the situation; given how the tone-deafness of the administration contributed greatly to the boycott threat in the first place, of course it’s a valid course of action for Missouri to recognize. But what a tightrope to have to tiptoe…
Somehow, I doubt Rhoades thought he was signing up for all of that when he took the job. If he can figure out a way to navigate through all of it without a scratch, he may become the first athletic director I can honestly say is underpaid.