Missouri's Eli Drinkwitz asks a good question about athletes' mental health after Big Ten's latest expansion

The Big Ten has Oregon and Washington. The Big 12 has Arizona, Arizona State and Utah. People have questions about how all of that is going to work.

One of those people is Missouri football coach Eli Drinkwitz whose news conference Saturday naturally veered into the topic of conference realignment. When asked for his thoughts on the demise of the Pac-12 and the rise of a coast-to-coast Big Ten, Drinkwitz said he was hoping nobody would ask him about it, then launched into a three-plus-minute rant centered around the welfare of student-athletes who are about to have dozens of hours on the road added to their schedules.

The center of Drinkwitz's answer:

"I thought the transfer window, I thought the portal was closed. Oh, that's just for the student-athletes. The adults in the room get to do whatever they want, apparently.

"My question is: Did we count the cost? And I’m not talking about the financial cost. I’m talking about: Did we count the cost for the student-athletes involved in this decision? What cost is it to those student-athletes? We’re talking about a football decision, they based [it] on football, but what about softball and baseball, who have to travel cross-country? Did we ask about the cost to them?

"Do we know what the No. 1 indicator or symptom of or cause of mental health [issues] is? It’s lack of rest and sleep. Traveling in those baseball, softball games, those people, they travel commercial, they get done playing, they gotta go to the airport, they come back, it’s 3 or 4 in the morning, they gotta go to class. I mean, did we ask any of them?"

Drinkwitz's own conference, the SEC, has already made its big move by adding Texas and Oklahoma, but those two schools don't present the logistical issues like the Big Ten's newest additions.

With the Pacific Northwest schools aboard as well as USC and UCLA, the Big Ten now has thousands of miles separating its schools. The fire hose of money that is inducing these schools to shred tradition and join geographically remote conferences can be used to pay for the additional travel, but what money can not replace is the time of student-athletes, who already have busy schedules.

KNOXVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 12: Missouri Tigers head coach Eliah Drinkwitz coaches during the college football game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Missouri Tigers on November 12, 2022, at Neyland Stadium, in Knoxville, TN. (Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Eli Drinkwitz would like to know if anyone stopped to think about the student-athletes during the latest wave of conference realignment. (Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It's easy to envision student-athletes as hard-partying jocks who have millions waiting for them and don't have to worry about classes, but the reality is the vast, vast majority of them go through an unenviable balancing act of a full-time class workload and hours of practice and workouts each day, to say nothing of the actual games. Adding the West Coast to the Big Ten is going to be rough for the athletes at traditional Big Ten schools and absolutely brutal for the West Coast ones that now have to cross multiple time zones just to play a normal conference road game or series.

That latter group is already making its displeasure known:

Drinkwitz mentioned those student-athletes speaking up and sympathized with them:

"I saw on Twitter several student-athletes talking about how one of the reasons they chose their school was so their parents didn't have to travel. They chose a local school so they could be regionally associated so their parents could watch them play and not have to travel. Did we ask them if they wanted to travel from the East Coast to the West Coast?

"Man, I love the game, but every game that I coach, I look up in the stands and find my family. I make sure they can be there. Because that's what I'm doing this for."

USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington are set to join the Big Ten in 2024. We can only wonder if that will be the end of it (it probably won't be), and where this all is going when money has so clearly become the primary driver of every significant decision in college sports.