The state of Louisiana is facing a $2 billion budget shortfall that could force the state into financial bankruptcy resulting in massive cuts to the state’s university system according to Governor John Bel Edwards. In a televised speech Thursday night, Edwards said the cuts could result in class cancellations and “farewell to college football in the fall.”
If there are no classes or enough classes, it could indeed put an end to college football and college athletics in general at the school. LSU does not receive any state subsidies for its athletic program – it’s all funded through private donations, ticket sales and game day revenues, advertising and television revenues – but athletics and academics are partners under the current NCAA setup so no classes for players means no football.
When I read about the potential shortfalls in Louisiana and the potential of cancelling college athletics, I am reminded of a conversation that took place more than 40 years ago in the sports department newsroom of the Savannah Morning News. In that conversation, the late Bill Humphrey predicted that one day in the future there would be no requirement for athletes to be students. Bill predicted that the NCAA as we know it would cease to exist and private corporations would sponsor the sports teams at schools that elected to participate in athletics. Corporations would lease the facilities from the university and would pay for all the expenses of their athletes and schools that wanted to pay a salary could do so but it wouldn’t be a requirement. If athletes wanted to go to college, the corporation would pay for it but college attendance would not be a requirement. The corporation could also pay for athletes who have no academic gifts to go to trade schools to learn a craft that would help them get a job when the football ended. Discipline would be handled by the corporation, its directors and coaches. This model would allow the private corporation to partner with a major sponsor – let’s say Apple or Ford – to pay for new practice facilities, etc. Of course, revenues would be split with the universities.
Additionally, in the Humphrey model, a gifted football or basketball player wouldn’t have to worry about qualifying academically so a stud running back with bad grades could still play football before moving on to the pros. That would certainly eliminate some of the NCAA silliness, such as the clearinghouse and would eliminate spring semester lightning where high school athletes with a career D- average suddenly turn into straight A students and earn admission to a university. That happens far more than you can imagine.
Here we are 40-plus years later and collegiate athletics haven’t evolved in the manner Bill Humphrey suggested but when you look at what’s going on at LSU and when you consider how many athletic departments are bathed in red ink, I have to wonder when we’re going to encounter a financial crisis that will alter college sports as we know them. In so many ways, the current model is outmoded, but can it simply be tweaked or do we need a complete and radical overhaul to ensure the sports can endure with or without the contributions of the university?
Forty-something years ago, I laughed at Bill Humphrey’s suggestion but I also remember he also once predicted Hank Aaron would finish out his career as a designated hitter in the American League. I laughed at the suggestion but his prediction came true. So, now I wonder if it is possible that a collegiate athletics model somewhat similar to the one Bill envisioned will be required to save college sports from a fate like the one LSU could face in the fall?
SEC REVENUES SHOULD HIT RECORD LEVELS
When the SEC held its spring meetings in Destin last May, it distributed $31.2 million per school to the 14 schools in the conference as part of $455.8 million in revenue. In 2014, the conference distributed $20.9 million per school.
Last year’s record distribution is only part of the story. The SEC fiscal year didn’t end until August 31, 2015 and the total revenue for 2014-15 was $527.4 million. When the league meets in Destin in May, it is expected to announce revenues of more than $600 million and distribution to each school of more than $40 million.
SABAN EXPECTED TO GET A RAISE TO MORE THAN $8 MILLION
It is expected that Alabama is going to give HBC Nick Saban a more than $1 million raise in the coming weeks. Saban is currently making $7.1 million, which makes him the highest paid college football coach in the country. The highest paid coaches in the NFL are Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints) and Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks).
For those who think Alabama is paying way too much for a football coach, defenders point to the fact that since Saban arrived, enrollment has increased by more than 55% and more than half the students are from out of state. SAT and ACT scores for incoming freshmen have risen and the school has enrolled 174 National Merit Scholars and National Achievement scholarships, which ranks Alabama among the top five public universities. Non-athletic department donations total more than $1.7 billion since Saban became the head coach.
Alabama’s athletic department turned a tidy $33 million profit last year. From that profit, the athletic department gave $9.1 million to the university, which included a $4 million contribution for UA Presidential Scholarships that are paid out to students who perform best in the classroom.
IS IT PARITY OR BAD BASKETBALL?
With only a few weeks before March Madness descends and we begin three gut wrenching weekends of lose and go home basketball until we crown a national champion, there isn’t a single dominant team. In fact, there isn’t a Division I team in the country with fewer than three losses. South Carolina (21-3, 8-3 SEC) has the best record in the Southeastern Conference and is one of only nine teams nationwide with only three losses.
Unlike last season when Kentucky roared into the Final Four unbeaten, there is no super team this year. Kentucky, for instance, which has as much talent as anyone in the country, has six losses already and probably will lose a couple more games. The Wildcats are a fine basketball team at Rupp Arena, but they’re extremely vulnerable on the road or against any team that can establish an inside game against them. Duke, last year’s national champ, fell out of the Top 25.
It could be successfully argued that the overall level of play has dipped since last year. There aren’t a lot of teams that can make a decent percentage of their free throws and you wonder who’s teaching fundamentals when we see all the bad passes and turnovers. There are some, however, who claim that the overall level of play hasn’t dipped, it’s just spread out more. More teams have more good players and therefore there isn’t a lot of separation.
I have to wonder what we would be saying if some of those underclassmen who bolted for the NBA last year had stuck around. I hate to imagine how good Kentucky would be this year if Karl Anthony-Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles Derrick Booker and the Harrison Twins had hung around for one more year. And what if Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones had elected to spend their sophomore years at Duke instead of cashing NBA paychecks?
As for this season, everybody knows the names of LSU super freshman Ben Simmons and Oklahoma super shooter Buddy Hield, but can you name two other players who are legitimate superstars in the college game this year?
If there is a silver lining to the state of collegiate basketball it is that things are so closely bunched that a team like Florida has a real shot at making the NCAA Tournament. The Gators are 16-8 and 7-4 in SEC play. It’s conceivable that they will make the NCAA Tournament if they can get to 20 wins in the regular season. Of course, a 20-win Florida team would also have 11 losses. Last year that would have been a ticket to the NIT. This year? You can just about count on the Gators dancing in March if they go into the SEC Tournament with a 20-11 regular season record.
TEXAS ASSISTANT LINKED TO OLE MISS NCAA WOES
It is being reported that Texas will dismiss secondary coach Chris Vaughn as a result of the NCAA investigation into Ole Miss football. Vaughn, who was an assistant and recruiting coordinator from 2008-11 when Houston Nutt was the football coach at Ole Miss, is alleged to be involved in many of the NCAA rules violations that took place during Nutt’s tenure. Ole Miss was served with a notice of allegations by the NCAA last week.
#2 SOUTH CAROLINA WOMEN KNOCK OFF GATORS
#2 South Carolina (23-1, 11-0 SEC) jumped to a 12-point lead at the half and never looked back to take an 86-71 win over #16 Florida (19-5, 7-4 SEC) in Columbia Thursday night. The game was decided at the foul line. The Gators hit 9-15 but South Carolina spent a good portion of the game at the charity stripe, hitting 22-31.
Carla Batchelor led the Gators with 19 points while Cassie Peoples scored 13 and Haley Lorenzen had 12.
EIGHT GATORS INVITED TO THE NFL COMBINE
Combine invitations are usually an indication of draftability so eight Gators have received good news from the NFL. Invited to Indianapolis for the February 23-29 event are seniors Jonathan Bullard (DE/DT), Antonio Morrison (LB) and Jake McGee (TE) and juniors Vernon Hargreaves III (CB), Alex McCalister (DE), Keanu Neal (S), Kelvin Taylor (RB) and Demarcus Robinson (WR).
Mississippi State hired former Iowa State secondary coach Maurice Linguist to coach the safeties.
Texas A&M hired Jim Turner to coach its offensive line. Turner was the O-line coach of the Miami Dolphins when the bullying incident between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin took place.
Kareem Canty, who was one of the top scorers in the SEC when Bruce Pearl suspended him for conduct detrimental to the team, tweeted out that he will forego his senior season at Auburn to enter the NBA Draft. Can you say hello D-league? That’s where most players who never met a shot they didn’t like or wouldn’t take wind up … if they’re lucky.
California will hire Jake Spavital as its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Spavital, who coached at Texas A&M last year, replaces Tony Franklin, who left Cal for Middle Tennessee State.
Former Penn State president Graham Spanier, who was forced out in 2011 over the Jerry Sandusky incident, has filed suit against Penn State, claiming his reputation was impugned and also claims the university has not lived up to some of its financial obligations including payment of his legal fees.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Two-part question: Can you foresee a day when an LSU or other schools have to cancel their football/sports seasons because of budget problems and can you see a time when the current collegiate sports model will change radically?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
A message board comment by Hotlanta Bill reminded me today that I haven’t listened to the North Mississippi All-Stars for awhile, so my unwinding music after a business trip to Orlando was their live performance at the Workplay Theater from 2010.