Two Missouri representatives have offered a bill that would require colleges to revoke scholarships held by healthy student-athletes who refuse to play and fines for coaches who endorse such actions.
“Any college athlete who calls, incites, supports, or participates in any strike or concerted refusal to play a scheduled game shall have his or her scholarship revoked,” the bill reads. “Any member of a coaching staff who encourages or enables a college athlete to engage in (such) behavior … shall be fined by his or her institution of employment.”
State Rep. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville Republican, filed the legislation, H.B. 1743, on Friday. State Rep. Kurt Bahr, an O’Fallon Republican, is a co-sponsor.
“This discussion needs to be had,” Bahr said Monday. Brattin was unavailable for comment.
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On Nov. 7, more than 30 University Missouri football players announced via Twitter a solidarity strike with the group Concerned Student 1950, threatening to boycott all practices and games until System President Tim Wolfe resigned. Racial incidents on the Columbia campus inspired the protests.
After a team meeting Nov. 8, then-coach Gary Pinkel and the rest of the Tigers announced their support of the boycott and canceled a practice that afternoon. The team and coaches returned to practice only after Wolfe and R. Bowen Loftin, the chancellor of the Columbia campus, announced their decisions to resign.
The team did not miss a scheduled game.
Bahr said the incident prompted him to re-examine the relationship between student-athletes and the universities where they play.
“The student has a right to protest or to make their voice heard,” he said. “But if they have a contract to perform certain duties, and they violate that contract … then it’s not an issue of the First Amendment. It’s an issue of contract law. They failed to uphold that contract.”
Ian Simon, a senior captain and safety for the Tigers this fall, told a reporter for the Columbia Missourian that athletes might still boycott games, if necessary. “I don’t just wear a helmet on Saturdays and disappear the other six days of the week,” he said.
Most U.S. universities already can cancel an athletic scholarship if a student fails to meet team rules or university policies. The Brattin bill would require universities to revoke scholarships if an otherwise healthy athlete refused to play or urged a player boycott.
The MU athletic department is self-sustaining and receives no public funds. Scholarships, facilities upgrades and other expenses are paid for through a combination of broadcast rights, private donations, ticket sales and merchandising.
The MU Student-Athlete Handbook says all scholarships renewals, reductions or revocations are “made at the discretion of the coach and the Director of Athletics.”
Any legislation that forced colleges to pull athletic scholarships might put Missouri at a severe disadvantage from a recruiting standpoint, experts believe.
The Brattin/Bahr bill apparently would apply to all Missouri colleges, both public and private, that offer athletic scholarships.
In January, Brattin offered a bill called the Campus Free Expression Act that prohibited public colleges and universities from setting aside “free-speech zones” on their campuses. Instead, the measure allows schools to maintain regulations concerning expressive activity in outdoor spaces, but they cannot prohibit it.