LA Higher Ed Is Not The Problem – Athletics Edition

I’ve read most of The Advocate’s impressive–though not completely accurate–series on Louisiana’s higher education woes. I can’t say I’ve fully digested it all, but I am experiencing a bit of heartburn over their conclusion that Louisiana higher education is too big, too inefficient, and needs to be cut more. As a result, it may take me some time to offer a level headed critique of the series.

But I’ll start with a quick look at the piece on college athletics, mainly because I don’t work directly in college athletics so don’t feel as strongly about it as say, merit vs. need-based scholarships, admission standards or minority access to higher education. So while I may not be able to wow you with my great insider knowledge, I’m still too angry that we are Here Again After Only Six Months to spew anything but nonsensical venom on these other issues that I care most deeply about.

First in asking the question, “Why are athletics largely immune to higher education budget cuts?”, and in only comparing Louisiana schools against each other, the Advocate is making it seem like Louisiana universities are spending too many of our tax dollars in the “athletics arms race” and that this is contributing to our state’s budget woes.

Well, as I said in my previous post, since higher education overall (including TOPS) is only 4% of our entire $25 billion state budget, according to the Advocate’s numbers athletic subsidies are just a drop in the total budget bucket.

It is true that LSU is the only program in the state that is self-supporting. In fact, it is one of only seven programs in the nation that is completely self-supporting without university subsidies. So comparing the rest of our institutions to LSU is unfair because so few other schools nationally–not even the two schools who played for the national championship this year–are so self-sufficient that they receive zero subsidies from their institutions.

When looking at the national picture, programs with very low or no subsidies fall into two categories–elite, big conference schools like LSU, or very underfunded programs, many of them at HBCUs.

And nearly all of our state’s other programs fall into that second category. They aren’t highly subsidized compared to other programs nationally. They mostly range from being very to extremely underfunded. Here’s where our other 10 NCAA institutions fall in the finance rankings of 230 NCAA schools nationally:

  • UNO (which almost dropped to DIII status) – 215
  • Grambling (whose football players went on strike year before last because their athletic facilities were so pitifully unsafe) – 206
  • Nicholls – 190
  • ULM – 189
  • Southern – 186
  • McNeese (which is usually among the top ranked FCS schools in the nation and last year finished 9th) – 185
  • UL Lafayette (whose Ragin’ Cajun Athletic Foundation is modeled after LSU’s Tiger Athletic Foundation) – 181
  • Southeastern – 176
  • Northwestern – 163
  • LaTech – 117

Since all of our schools are in the bottom half, and most in the bottom 25%, I don’t think that anyone can conclude that Louisiana institutions are pumping huge amounts of tax or tuition dollars into sports while the rest of the university crumbles under the weight of tax cuts. We as a state are basically non-players in the athletics arms race and in fact are overperforming in comparison to how much we aren’t spending. The modest funding that institutions do give athletics funds much more than what goes on in the game–they do double duty in advertising and recruiting, and contribute scholarships to real students, not just potential NFL stars.

To give some additional perspective, we CAPPED our TV/film tax subsidy program at roughly twice the amount of subsidies given to our own state’s athletic programs. So let’s cut football at Southeastern so we can get more NCIS: New Orleans, right?

Another reason why we can’t just cut sports, or cut certain sports? A little Federal law known as Title IX that requires gender equity in all higher education programs receiving Federal financial aid. According to the Federal government, athletics programs are considered educational programs or activities. This means that schools with athletic programs have to provide equitable facilities, scholarships, and participation opportunities to all student-athletes, men and women. This is a requirement among schools with athletics programs to receive Federal financial aid. So cutting our schools’ already meager athletic funding (see above) puts Title IX compliance at risk, unless we are advocating that they just cut them all so that we can continue allowing administrators over statutorily protected programs to mishandle their funds. This is Louisiana, after all.

And also left unsaid is that in recent years LSU’s athletics have pumped millions of dollars that used to come from our state in order to keep LSU’s classroom lights on.

Once again, we are proving that we as a state don’t give a $%#@ about higher education.

Higher education is not the problem. I won’t say that we are perfect, but continuing to heave cuts on less than 5% of our budget yet saying it is A-OK to give K-12 scholarships to failing private schools in the name of “choice” is not going to make higher ed more “efficient.” It might force some of us to close. And then there won’t be any athletics either because I’m pretty sure the NCAA requires that student-athletes actually have a school to go to.

No, Louisiana’s colleges and universities are not the problem. Louisiana’s PRIORITIES are the problem.


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