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Provo • Expressing support for the way the University of Missouri and specifically football coach Gary Pinkel dealt with some "really important, but also difficult issues," BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday that his program is pleased that the schools will be able to play their scheduled game on Saturday in Kansas City as originally planned.
"We're grateful that they were able to reach a resolution, or the beginning of a resolution, might be more applicable to say," Mendenhall said, reading at times from a prepared statement. "We look forward to preparing for the game at Arrowhead Stadium. It is a unique opportunity for our football team to play against a great program in a storied venue."
Mendenhall said that administrators from both schools communicated on Sunday and that he got word from Pinkel and Mizzou athletic director Mack Rhoades a few hours before his noon news briefing that UM would resume football activities on Tuesday in preparation for Saturday's 5:30 p.m. MT game.
"So it looks like for all intents and purposes the game will be played," Mendenhall said. "That doesn't mean that the other issues that they're dealing with go away instantly. My hope is that they can find a resolution that will work effectively for all parties."
That the game would be played at all was in doubt on Sunday evening when the Missouri Board of Curators called a Monday morning meeting to discuss the situation that began a week ago when graduate student Jonathan Butler started a hunger strike to protest the way Missouri system president Tim Wolfe handled racially charged incidents on campus that had been going on for several months.
Saturday, more than 30 of Missouri's black football players joined Butler and a group known as Concerned Student 1950 (the year the first black student was admitted to Missouri) and said they would not participate in any football-related activities until Butler's strike ended with Wolfe being fired or resigning.
Sunday, Pinkel announced he was backing his players, and tweeted out a picture of the team and coaches locking arms and wrote: "The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We stand behind our players."
On Monday morning, Wolfe resigned, Butler began eating again, and Missouri's football players began noting on social media websites that they were ready to return to football activities.
In Provo, Mendenhall and the three players selected to join him at the news conference running back Adam Hine, defensive end Bronson Kaufusi and quarterback Tanner Mangum said they followed the events in Missouri to varying degrees and Mendenhall acknowledged "going through scenarios" in his mind if the game were to be canceled or postponed.
However, it was business as usual when the team met at 6 a.m. Monday morning
The uncertainty "was maybe not quite as volatile as you would think in relation to us," Mendenhall said. "… Football coaches and teams are pretty routine-oriented, and so today our routine was the same, not knowing for sure if the game would be played or not."
Mendenhall said he's never faced a similar situation in his coaching career, but he's not surprised that a group of players was able to bring down a school president. Across the country, it was seen as a day when college athletes realized they wield more power than they might have thought.
"Just in my time as the head football coach at BYU, the impact and exposure of college football [has grown] to have the platform that it has," Mendenhall said. "It seems to be growing larger yearly, and almost weekly."
Later Monday, Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announced he was resigning at the end of the year and moving into a new role effectively meaning the players' boycott brought down the two most powerful men in the Missouri higher-education system. At a news conference Monday, Pinkel said he "did the right thing and would do it again" in backing his players. Rhoades said he received a call from BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe on Sunday and Holmoe told him, "you just let us know how we can help."
According to the contract for the games to be played this year in Kansas City and in 2020 in Provo, any school that cancels its appearance would have to pay the other school $1 million, unless it was mutually agreed upon by both schools to cancel the game(s).
Hine, one of approximately 20 BYU players who is black, said from afar it appears that the protest brought about the beginning of some positive changes.
"From my viewpoint, discrimination is everywhere: black, white, whatever religion you are, if you've got a disability, or whatever it is, you are going to face it," Hine said. "So where I stand is with anyone who is different, which is, we can look at ourselves and we are all different, in a way. I think it is good when people who are different, who are discriminated against for their differences, push for a change. It is cool to see a change. It is cool to see people group tougher and push for something that is good."
The BYU players said they expect an emotionally-charged game on Saturday, and will have to match the Tigers' intensity with aggression and execution.
"We are just going to focus on what we can control," Mangum said. "They are obviously taking on some important issues, and we are glad things are getting taken care of, although we don't know the whole story."
BYU vs. Missouri
Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, 5:30 p.m. MST
TV • SEC Network
Missouri football boycott timeline
Nov. 2 • Graduate student Jonathan Butler begins a hunger strike to protest the way Missouri System President Tim Wolfe has dealt with racial issues on campus
Saturday • Many of UM's African-American football players join in Butler's protest and say they won't participate in any football activities until Wolfe is fired or resigns
Sunday, 9 a.m. • Missouri coach Gary Pinkel meets with his team and tweets out a picture of the team's united support for Butler and the Concerned Student 1950 movement
Sunday, 12:30 p.m. • Wolfe releases a statement pledging to improve campus climate regarding racial issues and be more responsive to needs of minorities and disaffected students.
Sunday, 3 p.m. • Pinkel and athletic director Mack Rhoades release a statement announcing practice and formal team activities would be canceled and not resumed until Butler begins eating again.
Monday, 9 a.m. • At a hastily called meeting of UM's Board of Curators, the embattled Wolfe resigns
Monday, 10 a.m. • Butler announces that he will eat again, and Missouri players take to social media to announce their boycott is over
Monday, noon • BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall says UM dealt with some "important" and "difficult" issues and that the Cougars are grateful the school was "able to reach the beginning of a resolution."
Monday, 2:45 p.m. • Pinkel and Rhoades appear at a news conference and Pinkel says he "did the right thing and would do it again."
Monday, 4 p.m. • Missouri players read a prepared statement saying they will return to their normal football activities.