Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and LSU President F. King Alexander have both recently hinted that football in the state is in jeopardy if the state legislature doesn’t come up with an alternative to the historically high mid-year cuts to higher education to balance a historically high mid-year shortfall in the state. Some estimates are saying a best-case scenario situation would still feature $70 million dollars in cuts spread among the university’s 34 public institutions. Worst case scenario, the state’s higher education institutions would face over $131 million in cuts, which would mean very real consequences for the campuses in the state. This would amount to cuts of:
To put that figure in perspective, the entire Southern University system only receives –- through federal money, state allocations and tuition — $129.5 million annually. In other words, [officials are] asking for Louisiana’s colleges and universities to cut a piece of higher education’s funding that is equivalent to cutting the entire Southern University system. And they would have just a few months to do it.
“If you are a student attending one of these universities, it means that you will receive a grade of incomplete, many students will not be able to graduate, and student-athletes across the state at those schools will be ineligible to play next semester,” Edwards said in a nationally televised speech this week. “That means you can say farewell to college football next fall.”
For some additional perspective, LSU’s athletics budget alone is over $133 million. However; the department is not subsidized by the university’s general budget; it actually usually transfers money back into the general operating fund. So for LSU athletics, it is likely that the department will find a way to keep things moving. On the other hand, though Southern University athletics department run in the black most years, the university subsidizes its budget at nearly 50% out of the school’s general fund, according to the USA Today database, meaning cuts to the university’s overall budget severely threaten the viability of athletics at Southern.
But there are some real impacts that cannot be ignored. The state has suspended its TOPS scholarship program for the remainder of the year after running out of money to issue disbursements, a $28 million cut that affects in-state scholarships — including those for 18 members of the current LSU football roster. TOPS cuts remain on the table, even in the best case scenario that will avert some of the other cuts. Institutions, including LSU, would run out of money to pay professors mid-semester, which means, as Edwards said, students could be awarded Incomplete grades for the courses in session (or, in a more likely scenario, exams would be administered early and final grades submitted before the shutdown date).
LSU President F. King Alexander has been on record as saying the cuts would leave the institution unable to operate summer school courses, which would leave many athletes without the requisite number of credit hours to play in the fall. Alexander has proposed a hike in student fees to cover some of the deficit, but for other state institutions, including those in the Southern system, students would not likely be able to cough up the additional funds with no notice.
“Higher education has been taking a haircut for seven years, and we’ve taken them when many others haven’t,” Alexander said. “It’s hard to take a haircut when you have no hair. Our spending per student is already lowest in the country.”
To Alexander’s point, public education tuition in Louisiana is already the lowest in the region, and significantly lower than the national average. State budget cuts have threatened the institutions every year since the recession hit, thanks, in large part, to former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal of federal stimulus funds in 2009 and subsequent refusal of other pools of federal funding in more recent years.
And while it is unlikely that either Southern or LSU will fail to field a football team next year, in a state like Louisiana — where football is king, where businessmen and politicians believe the SEC championship game should be a college football playoffs semi-finals game, and where college football fandom sets the pace for the entire regional culture — leveraging the threat of no football is an effective scare tactic to motivate the state house to act. (For what it’s worth, Edwards has said his remarks were not scare tactics, but instead real, plausible scenarios if there’s no action on the proposed cuts.)