Missouri back to football, but it’s not business as usual
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Wednesday he had asked his coaching staff to stay in close touch with the team in a tense week that included a player plan to boycott and the arrest of a student following online threats against black students and faculty.
The Tigers play BYU in Kansas City on Saturday, one week after they threatened to stay on the sidelines without changes at the campus. The boycott threat vanished Monday when the university system president resigned.
Still, it was anything but normal at Missouri and the campus was strangely empty Wednesday as classes were canceled in some cases amid news that a white college student at another campus, in Rolla, had been arrested on suspicion of posting the online threats.
Pinkel said he asked his staff to stay in close contact with the players through texts and phone calls. Sometimes so-called distractions and off-the-field issues can galvanize a team during difficult times.
''Kind of a circle-the-wagons-type thing. I certainly hope it goes that way,'' Pinkel said.
Missouri brings a four-game losing streak into Saturday's game at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium against the Cougars (7-2).
Pinkel said it is impossible to predict how his team will respond to a most unusual week.
''That's the million-dollar question right now. That's what's going to be the concern,'' he said. ''There's nothing normal about that. All this stuff is going on. We're going to address this today.''
Former Missouri defensive end Shane Ray, now with the Denver Broncos, said he was proud of his former teammates for taking a stand, though he admitted to not being close enough to the situation to make a judgment on the issues.
''And I just told those guys more importantly be safe and don't make any (rash) decisions that are going to cost you your life or anything,'' Ray said. ''And be smart about how you handle the situation. Your guys' voice has already been heard.''
The Tigers last played on Thursday, losing at home in the rain to Mississippi State. They practiced Tuesday and were set to do so again Wednesday and Thursday.
''Obviously there's potential for big distractions,'' Pinkel said. ''That's where you rely on your leadership.''
On Saturday night a group of players told Pinkel that they wanted to go a football strike to support hunger-striking Missouri graduate student Jonathan Butler, who said he would not eat until university system President Tim Wolfe resigned. Protesters were unhappy with Wolfe's response to their complaints about racial tension on campus and other issues.
Pinkel and athletic director Mack Rhoades suggested other means of supporting the cause such as a team walk through campus, wearing helmet stickers with Butler's initials or possibly armbands during their next game.
''We tried to find a couple alternatives,'' Pinkel said. ''They were very, very emotional.''
Pinkel also acknowledged that there were likely players who didn't back a boycott.
''I'm not naive to think that internally there are players that raised their hand and said `I'm in,' but really just are in because of the team and just because of how much they care about their teammates,'' Pinkel said. ''How much healing is going to take place on our team? I don't know.''
AP Sports Writers Arnie Stapleton and R.B. Fallstrom contributed to this report.