Want another reminder about misplaced priorities in Louisiana? It seems higher education officials and some elected officials spend time trying to limit educational opportunities for the state’s high school student-athletes — apparently guided by public demand.
Building upon a story reported in The Advocate, ESPN.com recently detailed efforts spearheaded by LSU football coach Ed Orgeron to prevent out-of-state universities from participating in summer satellite football camps, where a college or school district hosts workouts for area rising senior players and invites universities to evaluate them. He appears to have applied pressure in at least five cases to prevent schools beyond Louisiana’s borders from sending evaluators to such camps.
According to ESPN.com, Orgeron had help. The article suggested he had the blessing of LSU System President F. King Alexander and LSU athletic director Joe Alleva. Other state institutions playing football at the highest classifications also seemingly colluded to refuse camp invitations to universities beyond Louisiana playing at the same level.
Even the most die-hard LSU fans might struggle to name just one of the Tigers’ walk-on offensive linemen.
Worse, sources told ESPN.com that a few state legislators got involved at least once to keep away out-of-state schools that compete with LSU. The sponsoring site, Southeastern Louisiana University, supposedly was told, although SLU denies it, that LSU never would schedule it again if it allowed some non-Louisiana schools in college football’s top division at its camps.
Orgeron has defiantly defended the policy. He says that in the spring, programs can visit without geographical restrictions any high schools willing to invite them. He even thanked a July meeting of state high school coaches for blocking out-of-state universities from camps (districts may hold these for universities not in the highest divisions, many of which award scholarships), which encourages more and better players to attend LSU.
But such parochialism really throws out the baby with the bathwater. While highly ranked recruits may pique Orgeron’s interest, camps also provide exposure for lesser-regarded athletes in which LSU has little interest and also for some who attract attention only from lower-division schools. Such students deserve the best chance to parlay academic and athletic abilities into attending college, even if it's outside of Louisiana. Without a football scholarship, some students can't afford to go.
But popular sentiment seems to be on Orgeron's side. Louisianans spend a lot on LSU sports in general and particularly in football, while they seem cooler to the actual business of higher education. Regrettably, among Southeastern Conference schools that report results, only LSU has more donated dollars socked away for athletics than for academics. It ranked second-highest in the total amount donated for athletics, second-lowest in total amount donated for academics.
That thinking leads to unrealistic expectations, as the case of former head coach Les Miles makes clear. Despite having the second-most wins in school history, the best winning percentage coaching multiple seasons, and a national championship, his disgruntled fan base ran him out of town last year.
Even if LSU’s program operated at the level of the highest sustained achievers in the sport — such as Ohio State, Oklahoma, and, yes, Alabama — that performance would not justify such pressure placed upon those responsible at the school to win football games. If only some of the passion invested on chasing the Crimson Tide’s gridiron success could be diverted into promoting education excellence at all levels, economic development worries would evaporate and Louisianans’ quality of life would improve.
Instead, to the detriment of some young men’s futures, popular feelings push higher education administrators, coaches, and politicians to tackle the burning issue of outsider institutions poaching in-state pigskin talent. Backward is as backward does.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics, www.between-lines.com, where links to information in this column may be found. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about legislation in it at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or email firstname.lastname@example.org. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.