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In the Huddle: Ending a disappointing season on the right note

The NCAA ruling is just the latest sting in a season full of them. But there’s still time to go out with a W.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The appropriate word(s) are hard to come up with.

Of all the ways to end this season, it comes down to something this unfair. For Mizzou Football, the chance to scrap for something positive over the past 5 weeks; to reach for just about anything to stop the bleeding, all comes down to the last week of the season against the 2-9 Razorbacks.

That’s been the story of this season: The Tigers come out sputtering, only to regain their momentum and fall flat. Make no mistake, there were certain things the program couldn’t control: the early-season injury that ended Cale Garrett’s senior season or Kelly Bryant’s hamstring and nearly blown out knee.

Of the things they could control, it seemed they went from bad to worse, then snowballed out of control. What hurts the most is the fact that amidst all of the Tigers’ setbacks, there was always a tiny shred of hope. That shred of hope came in the fact that even though the Tigers were beating themselves week in and week out, they were still sitting at 5-6, eligible to at least make a bowl game.

One might agree that this season has already been devastating, but for the NCAA to shred that final bit of hope? It’s gut-wrenching.

The worst part is that three years ago when this tutor did some athletes’ homework, Mizzou were able to take control! They followed the correct avenues and channels laid out per NCAA mandate. And here we sit three years later with literally less than nothing. No bowl game, a reduction in scholarships in three sports all levied upon a group of student-athletes who had nothing to do with what happened. It took the NCAA months to crush the hopes of Mizzou and its faithful, just one game away from the season finale.

So the question remains: How do we finish arguably one of the most infamous seasons in program history? Many seem to be caught in the conundrum of not being able to forget such a season, while many can’t wait for it to be over — out of sight and out of mind. However, there’s still work that need be done for the team.

Many may not understand what it takes to get to this point in a young athlete’s life. For many, it goes much deeper than earning a scholarship to play college football, much less at the Division 1 level. Football is hard, but life can be harder. Many players need this opportunity for both themselves and their families. It might be a situation where their son makes it out of a difficult situation. For former WR LaDamian Washington, it meant a huge step for the family he had grown up raising himself — a fresh start with endless possibilities to bring them into a greater position to prosper. He took it on his back and made it happen.

Stories have come out stating how parents cannot afford to get their sons home for the holidays due to the postseason ban. What many don’t know is that during bowl weeks and weeks such as Thanksgiving where school is not in session (but the team is in-season), teams receive what is called “per diem,” or money per day to use for food, living and travel. It is a set amount for players who live on and off campus depending on a variety of factors. For a lot of guys, that money pays for gas, helps with plane tickets out of state, and allows them to have something for their work on the field.

The NCAA’s sanction negated the chance for that per diem to be received. The Tigers would have had to do the work to get to 6 wins and be eligible, but given the current situation going against a pretty poor Arkansas team on paper, it seemed a very real possibility.

As a locker room, this news is disheartening, particularly for the seniors. This was their last shot to end their careers in the postseason. For freshmen and those in between, it’s a chance to not be sent home early and an experience only few can say they’ve ever had. Postseason play is important for coaches too. Make it there consistently enough, and you can assure, at least for awhile, that your job isn’t in jeopardy.

Players and coaches recognize that no matter the ruling that was given earlier in the week, they have a responsibility to finish out the season on a winning note. Just because postseason play was taken away, it doesn’t erase the final regular season game. That result will be tallied in the history books just the same as the ruling.

Mizzou fans who’ve been around awhile also realize that this is not the first time Mizzou has gotten the shaft. It’s a tough thing to accept, but history tells us the NCAA isn’t the only entity that holds Missouri back. Sometimes it’s the refs; sometimes it’s the players themselves; and other times it could be admin, compliance, or in this case, “one rogue tutor.”

There is a question that former Mizzou head of strength and conditioning Dr. Pat Ivey would ask: “Where are you?” This wasn’t meant to be literal, but rather a heart check to see where players are mentally amidst distractions and chaos. The response of the collective room would often be, “Right here, right now.” This meant that what happened doesn’t matter, what’s going to happen doesn’t matter yet. What happens right now is where you need to be.

The season hasn’t gone to plan by any stretch, but what happened before week 12 is over. What happened with the NCAA is over. We have our ruling, and now we know. But to be right here, right now, means the Tigers have a final game to prepare for that has nothing to do with the NCAA taking something away.

Yes, it’s unfair. Yes, the Tigers have struggled. Yes, the NCAA was completely wrong in doing what they did. However, winning this game against the Razorbacks proves that Mizzou won’t go away. Mizzou hasn’t been kicked out! They are still guests at the party — uninvited and scoffed at as they may be. Just because Mizzou got knocked down yet again, doesn’t mean we have to stay here. For all intents and purposes, we never have, 109 years under the NCAA’s umbrella of inconsistency.

Sounds about like “the story of our Mizzou lives,” huh? The program has bucked the system and rewritten history before. There’s no reason this season can’t end better than the flawed system says it should.