DESTIN, Fla. — LSU’s decision to build its men’s basketball season ticket marketing campaign around highly rated incoming freshman Ben Simmons has sparked nationwide debate over how much a school may “exploit” a student-athlete for such purposes.
Wednesday, LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva and coach Johnny Jones defended the campaign between sessions of the Southeastern Conference Spring Meeting.
“Ben and his family know about it, totally signed off on it and are excited and thrilled,” Alleva said.
A thinly veiled hint about the arrival of Simmons, the nation’s consensus No. 1 incoming freshman, has been featured on posters and in ads promoting season tickets.
Alleva said he’s unaware of what impact if any the campaign has had so far on ticket sales.
“We’re trying to put fans in the stands,” he said. “We’re going to have a good team and have some good recruits coming in. We want them to play in front of a full house.”
Jones said he approved of the campaign.
“I’m excited our marketing and promotions department decided to be very aggressive in trying to energize our fan base to get excited about our program,” he said.
Jones said he hasn’t had a player of Simmons’ magnitude in his time as a head coach.
“The only person who comes close is Shaq (O’Neal),” he said.
LSU near top in revenue
LSU athletics took in more revenue than all but one SEC school during the 2013-14 school year and ranked sixth nationally in revenue overall.
In numbers compiled by USA Today, LSU raked in $133.7 million in revenue while spending $122.9 million.
Only Oregon ($196 million), Texas ($161 million), Michigan ($157.9 million), fellow SEC member Alabama ($153.2 million) and Ohio State ($145.2 million) had higher revenue.
LSU ranked fifth in spending, behind only Texas ($154.1 million), Michigan ($142.6 million), SEC rival Auburn ($126.5 million) and Wisconsin ($125.1 million), leaving the program with a surplus of $10.7 million.
Of 230 athletic departments ranked, LSU was one of only seven that relied completely on self-generated revenue (no student fees or state subsidies). The others were Texas, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Nebraska and Purdue.
Satellite camp rule proposed
Commissioner Mike Slive said the SEC has begun the process of creating NCAA legislation to eliminate so-called “satellite camps” around the country.
However, if the SEC can’t get its rule adopted nationally, Slive said the conference will allow its coaches to participate in such camps by 2016.
“We’ll try to get the rule changed,” he said. “If not, our coaches will travel.”
Coaches in other major conferences have been taking advantage of an NCAA loophole which allows them to work sports camps well outside their school’s home state or geographic area.
SEC coaches are prohibited from taking part in out-of-state camps, which they say puts them at a recruiting disadvantage.
Fan fines to increase
SEC fans rushing the field or court to celebrate their team’s victory will draw a heftier fine going forward, Slive said.
The SEC began fining schools $5,000 for a first offense in 2004.
That’s the amount LSU was fined last year when fans stormed the field in Tiger Stadium after its 10-7 win over then No. 3-ranked Ole Miss.
Asked if the new first offense fine could be about $50,000, Slive replied, “That’s in the range.”
Alleva said there is only so much a school can do to keep fans in the stands in such instances.
“You can’t build a wall around the field or barbed wire, or have horses or guns out there,” Alleva said. “It’s all about education and safety, but on the spur of the moment there’s no telling what fans will do.”
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.