Forde-Yard Dash: Why aren't college football players given opportunity to protest during anthem?

Pat Forde
College football and basketball columnist

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where the one and only sure thing is Florida over Kentucky:

More Forde-Yard Dash: ‘Bama challengers | ’16 hire heat check | Harbaugh’s complaints

FIRST QUARTER: END THE GREAT COLLEGE ANTHEM HIDEOUT

It is amazing that roughly 100 seconds of 200-year-old music could cause a nationwide uproar, but that’s where we are in modern America and modern football. The national anthem, which has an illogical but likely irrevocable attachment to sporting events, overshadowed the games it precedes Sunday.

The NFL reacted en masse to President Donald Trump’s out-of-nowhere attack upon the league with widespread anthem protests, statements and displays of unity from players, coaches and management. It made Sunday one of the more interesting days in league history. It was a watershed moment that called for both the collective (teams) and the individual (players) to check themselves and stand – or kneel – for what they believe in.

It would be great to see a similar moment of decision in college football. Though it would require many of the teams to emerge from hiding (1) during the pregame patriotism check.

College teams routinely are in the locker room while their fellow students in the marching band are actually on the field playing the anthem.

By and large, this pregame arrangement is not designed as an evasive maneuver – it’s simply the way the college pregame clock tends to work and what athletic programs prefer, and it predates the Colin Kaepernick Movement. But you’d better believe the majority of controversy-averse coaches and athletic directors like it this way.

Four U.S. Air Force T-38 jets fly over Michigan Stadium before the Michigan-Air Force game on Sept. 16. (AP)

It’s time to challenge that status quo. Coaches and administrators, let go of your fears. Let the players decide what they want to do at anthem time. Right now. This week.

If they want to take the field with hands over hearts, fine. If they want to take the field and take a knee, fine. If they want to stay in the locker room, fine. Put it to a team vote, majority rules, or let different groups of players do their own thing.

And then back them in the face of any backlash. It would be an awesome expression of belief in your players and your program.

While the fan freakout in many locales – like, say, the Southeastern Conference (2) – could be extreme, the opportunity to make a statement in line with what we’ve seen in the NFL should exist. At a time when young adults are encouraged to grow and explore and develop their own belief systems, this is a specific area where college football players are almost literally locked out of the public forum.

Controlling the players is part and parcel of college athletics. Their ability to make money is controlled. Their availability to the media is controlled. In many programs, posting on social media accounts is discouraged (or outright banned) in-season. Their scholarships can be used as a weapon to guarantee adherence with a program’s dictates.

Yet the vast majority of them are old enough to vote and thus, in theory, old enough to have opinions on the politics of the land. The idea of a college football team taking a knee, or locking arms, or raising a fist, during the anthem might scare the hell out of the power brokers in the sport, but this is no time to run scared.

Avoiding the issue is an un-American response to a very American debate.

FOUR FOR THE PLAYOFF

How The Dash sees the College Football Playoff picture after four weeks of play:

Alabama (3) is the top seed. The Crimson Tide reasserted their SEC dominance by destroying previously unbeaten Vanderbilt 59-0, running their conference winning streak to 18 games. That was enough to move Nick Saban’s team back up to the pole position. It was such a blowout that ‘Bama fans got an extensive look at five-star freshman backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and the look was pretty: 125 yards total offense and two touchdown passes. Next: Hosts Mississippi, which might not be nearly as much of a test as in recent years without Alabama voodoo doctor Hugh Freeze coaching the Rebels.

Clemson (4) is the No. 2 seed. Coming off big victories over Auburn and Louisville, the Tigers had an understandable letdown and allowed Boston College to hang around until burying the Eagles in the fourth quarter. Clemson did not throw the ball very well but got another productive game from its stable of running backs and dual-threat QB Kelly Bryant, rolling up 342 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Next: At unbeaten Virginia Tech in the biggest game nationally this weekend.

Georgia (5) leaps into the bracket as the No. 3 seed. The Bulldogs dominated their showdown with previously unbeaten Mississippi State, 31-3, and are now surrendering just 11.5 points per game. Also, Georgia’s road win over Notre Dame continues to gain currency after the 3-1 Fighting Irish have followed that game with two easy victories. Don’t look now, but Kirby Smart’s formula is starting to resemble his old boss Nick Saban’s: the defense is very good, the running game is strong, the quarterback is doing what he needs to do without major errors. Next: At Tennessee, in a rematch of the Hail Mary-intensive thriller won by the Volunteers last year between the hedges.

Oklahoma (6) remains in the bracket as the No. 4 seed. The Sooners flirted with an epic flop, trailing winless Baylor late in the third quarter and surrendering 41 points to the Bears. But Oklahoma had two running backs combine for 308 rushing yards and Baker Mayfield ran his streak without an interception to six games as the Sooners pulled it out in Waco. Next: Bye week, followed by a visit from overmatched Iowa State.

Also considered: USC, TCU, Penn State, Michigan, Washington, San Diego State.

DASH RECRUITING SUGGESTIONS

The Dash saw a couple of five-star prospects Saturday and would love to play matchmaker with programs in need:

Beer Can Headbutt Woman (7). Certainly by now you’ve seen the video of the woman identified as a Maryland fan and/or student who risked CTE to bash open a can of beer on her forehead and chug it. While Maryland might make sense for her, she’s more acutely needed at UCLA (8), which leads the Power Five in defensive softness so far. The Bruins are dead last nationally in rushing defense and 125th out of 130 in total defense, and have yet to hit anyone as hard as that woman hits that beer can.

Touchdown Squirrel (9). You probably also saw the rodent who appeared on the field in the second quarter of the Kent State-Louisville game and dashed 40 yards to the house, to the delight of the Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium audience. Although the varmint was winded after his jaunt, hinting at some conditioning issues, he still would be a valuable addition to a winless Florida State (10) team that has scored touchdowns on just 25 percent of its red-zone trips – 128th nationally, ahead of only Texas State and Georgia Southern. The squirrel proved it can go where the Seminoles have rarely been this season.


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President Trump doubles down on criticizing national anthem protesters
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