LSU President F. King Alexander reiterates, yes, budget cuts could harm Tigers' football season _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- From left, LSU president F. King Alexander, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speak before LSU's men's basketball game against Georgia, Tuesday, January 26, 2016, at LSU's PMAC in Baton Rouge, La.

It’s not hyperbole, it’s reality, says LSU President F. King Alexander.

If the mid-year cuts to higher education are deep enough that campuses close early or that summer school is cut, then athletic programs will suffer, he told the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday afternoon.

Alexander, in his address, said that higher education institutions are trapped in “a fog” of uncertainty where school leaders are anxiously awaiting to find out from legislators how severe the damage will be on their individual campuses.

“I know a lot of people will say, ‘Well, that’s not going to happen,’” he said referring to the prospect of LSU football being hurt. “Well, that will happen if we don’t have summer school. We’ll only have half of our football team eligible.”

The recent theme of using football to garner attention for worst-case scenarios to higher education has been widely criticized by many legislators who have stated that the rhetoric is either unrealistic or that it minimizes the importance of cuts to academics.

“It’s not us saying that,” Alexander said. “It’s the NCAA telling us that — that student athletes have to be eligible to play. And yes, classes and sports go together. They’re student athletes, you can’t have one without the other.”

Louisiana’s colleges and universities will be cut a minimum of $70 million for the remaining few months of the school year, but that number could grow to more than $200 million if state legislators do not increase state revenue through tax hikes.

If LSU gets hit with the most modest mid-year cut being proposed, it would amount to about $17 million at the Baton Rouge LSU campus, and $33 million for the LSU System.

Alexander said even the best-case budget scenarios will require layoffs, but he couldn’t say how many. He said the hope is to shield faculty members from being cut this year.

But if the cuts are deep enough, he said LSU will have to file financial exigency, a declaration required to fire tenured faculty.

At Press Club, Alexander also said he’s concerned about the pace of progress in this special session called to fill a historically large $900 million mid-year budget shortfall, of which higher education and health care are expected to be hit among the hardest.

He noted that the session is more than half way done, but Louisiana’s colleges and universities have received little in the way of assurances that they’ll be shielded from catastrophic cuts.

“We’ve accomplished about 30 percent of what we have to do and there’s 10 days left in the special session,” he said.

Responding to criticisms from lawmakers in recent weeks who have said higher education officials have been resistant to structural changes that could save money, Alexander said LSU is leading the way in change.

He pointed out that LSU’s law school and Ag Center have been brought back under the main campus umbrella, and that LSU has cut 75 programs and 2,000 employees in the past eight years.

Asked about the need for LSU’s Eunice and Alexandria campus, he said that the Legislature has the power to close and merge campuses and has been historically resistant to doing so.

But he also suggested that the schools were serving a need, when he pointed out that Louisiana is 48th in the country in issuing college degrees.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen.