Fallout from LSU Football's three week meltdown has obliterated not only this season but also irradiated most fans' hopes for the future of this program. That destruction has also destroyed the perspective that those same fans and boosters should have about the "U" in LSU.
The toxic conversation surrounding Les Miles continued this morning with an onslaught of new reports suggesting that the $17 million buyout that would be due to Miles and his coaching staff would be "no obstacle" to eager boosters who are ready for a change.
It's time for a reality check.
Perhaps we all need a reminder that there is no football team without a functioning Louisiana State University, and right now that institution's financial situation is anything but stable. It was only six months ago when school President F. King Alexander rolled out a bankruptcy plan in response to projected state budget cuts.
Moody's Investors Service responded by lowering LSU's credit rating, a dramatic action that shook the senses out of state representatives and Governor Jindal, who responded by reallocating money in a revised budget to spare the university the bulk of previously suggested cuts.
However, with the state's budget crisis only worsening, we can expect higher education to be back on the chopping block, no matter what the incoming administration of Governor-elect Jon Bel Edwards promised. That means LSU, the University, will have their day of reckoning at the state legislature once again next year.
LSU, the University, used to be a premier academic institution held in high regard not only regionally but nationally. Much like the football team, that just simply isn't the case anymore. Student to faculty ratios have soared, tuition has skyrocketed, and the academic facilities are literally falling apart in places. The LSU Reveille took an inside look at the situation just last month.
In that context, paying the school's football coaches $17 million to leave not only makes no sense, it screams of blatant disregard for the health of the academic institution.
Yes, the LSU Athletic Fund and football program operate from a separate budget than the University and, yes, they nearly always operate at a hefty surplus. That still shouldn't make the proposed buyout reasonable or acceptable to those boosters or the athletic department who will be making the final decision whether or not to fire Miles.
Numerous reports today sourced unnamed "big boosters" who say that the $17 million buyout is "no obstacle." Where are these same boosters at when the school itself is on the chopping block? Where is the money from the alumni to keep the university operating at a world-class level like it has for so long?
LSU is one of very few Division I schools to operate at an athletic budget surplus, meaning the athletic programs make more money than they cost to operate. In fact they are one of only eight public schools to not subsidize their athletic programs in any way, whether it be from student fees, institutional support, ect.
Yet there is no LSU Athletics without Louisiana State University. If the institution itself fails the football team will as well. It'd be like watching Rome fall around you while in the cushy confines of the Coliseum and thinking nothing is wrong.
It's time for the boosters themselves to get their priorities straight. They should not let themselves become figureheads of what many view as the grotesque state of for-profit college athletics. A system, by the way, that sees very little of those profits go to the actual athletes themselves.
Say what you want about Phil Knight, but the Nike co-founder has not just given huge amounts to rebuild and rebrand the University of Oregon's athletic programs. The mega donor has also given enormous amounts of money to the university itself, helping turn Oregon into a state-of-the-art institution for higher education. There may be no single force as powerful as Knight for LSU boosters, but collectively they are a powerful bunch.
Hopefully they make the right decision. If not, a black stain will tarnish LSU Athletics and will be hard to erase. When LSU faces its looming budget crisis next year, those boosters and the athletic department should be held accountable.
The onus is on the people who love Louisiana State University to do just that.