Saturday, August 18, 2018
Colleges

Don't expect to see protests in college football any time soon

The whispers have segued to chatter. In time, it may evolve into rumblings, or even a groundswell.

Will college players be allowed to express themselves during the national anthem?

It's a question that has risen in the wake of the widespread protests staged Sunday across the NFL. Conventional argument is, college players are adults with social consciences of their own. If they're old enough to vote and enlist, shouldn't they be afforded a platform to exercise their First Amendment rights (and perhaps learn the consequences thereof)?

In theory, yes. But it's likely a moot argument.

First, the traditional college game-day structure doesn't allow it. For years, teams have remained in their locker rooms as bands or individuals performed The Star-Spangled Banner. Immediately afterward, players emerge from the tunnels. Then, kickoff.

Presumption is, coaches and administrators prefer the status quo, even more so today. (And for all the diplomatic public statements they elicited Sunday, a lot of NFL owners probably wish their pregame format mirrored college football's.)

So why would college officials be reticent to change? Because boosters also have First Amendment rights, and many may be inclined to cut off their donations if only one student-athlete from their school chose to kneel.

Imagine the backlash in the particularly conservative nooks of the country (i.e. Southeast, Midwest). You can envision the text messages popping up on athletic directors' phones from Lincoln to Little Rock to Lexington:

Mr. (Athletic Director), your players have every right to disgrace our flag by kneeling during the national anthem, and I have every right to withhold my contributions henceforth. Additionally, my ranch may no longer be used for recruiting functions.

Such repercussions obviously would have a more significant effect on non-Power Five programs. While a handful of defiant boosters might damage Alabama's coffers, it could decimate UAB's.

Moreover, college football is a heavily controlled environment as is.

Rarely will you find a college football player speaking to a reporter without a member of that school's sports information department within earshot. Players are trained on how to engage with the media, and in some places, freshmen aren't allowed to engage with the media at all.

Some coaches even revoke their players' social-media rights during the season.

You really think those same officials will readily alter this structure and potentially open a floodgate of controversy?

Granted, players in other sports are on the field/court when the anthem is performed. And things could get interesting when basketball season commences.

But let's be realistic: The image of an Ivy League lacrosse player kneeling won't reverberate nearly as much as an SEC or Big Ten quarterback doing the same thing.

For now, the only knees those guys will be taking is during a victory formation.

Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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