HOOVER, Ala. — It’s the nightmare scenario for conservative Missouri alums: Another Tigers football boycott.
Last season’s campus-wide political struggle roped in Gary Pinkel’s football team, leading to a national spotlight on Columbia and a divisive conversation about the role of college athletes.
As much as the university would love to put the boycott — and the factors that led to it — in its rearview, there’s a real possibility that future Mizzou unrest might manifest itself within the athletic complex again. For instance, the softball team played much of its season under protest of athletic director Mack Rhoades, who officially left Missouri for Baylor as Odom took the stand at Wednesday’s SEC Media Days.
New coach Barry Odom — last year’s defensive coordinator — wants to avoid any situations detrimental to his football team by opening more lines of communication with his players in 2016.
“Everything that I want to do is make sure that I’ve got such a great relationship with our team that if there are an instance that comes up, that they feel comfortable coming in the door, walking in the door and let’s sit down together as a team and as family and address those and find out,” Odom said during Wednesday’s SEC Media Days session.
“Let’s get the facts before we make any movements or statements about anything. Let’s make sure that we gather the facts and work together to come up what is best not only for the individual, but the University of Missouri and our athletic program.”
For Odom, it’s about respect for the individual player’s unique experiences.
“I haven’t walked through his shoes,” Odom said. “He hasn’t walked through mine. Let’s get together, share ideas, share our philosophies and our beliefs and make sure that we’ve got all of the facts before we do anything from there.”
Of course, there’s a conundrum here; the same one that Pinkel faced last season. Great communication with one’s players doesn’t preclude them from boycotting football activities.
Last year’s factors had much more — or, in some players’ eyes, everything — to do with what was happening on campus; not on the football team. It was a situation almost hopelessly out of Pinkel’s control. He decided to stand with his players, and he took heat for it.
The alternative? Losing out on future recruits that don’t believe the head coach at Missouri will support them through trying times.
With little to no leadership structure in place above him, Odom is in an unenviable position as the season approaches.
“We want Mizzou to be the best,” Odom said. “We want it to be the best journalism school, the best business school. I want it to be the best football program in America.”