Ed Orgeron Rotary Club TS 733.jpg

LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron, left, chats at the head table with LSU Deputy Director of Athletics Verge Ausberry in 2018.

The tough challenge to LSU and its vaunted athletic department, so important to Louisiana and the university, is about more than whether rules were violated or procedures were not followed.

A star wide receiver admitted to hitting his girlfriend, also a university athlete, in a text message to a senior executive of the department.

And nothing, from the record, appears to have happened.

We don’t see a lot of shades of gray here: That the situation should have been followed up, beyond the male athlete retracting his text, is obvious.

The moral questions raised ought to be addressed, beyond just the legalities.

The story reported in this newspaper Thursday suggests that football player Drake Davis appears to have been increasingly violent in the relationship. There were multiple ways that the female athlete engaged with health care, athletics trainers and ultimately, through the male athlete’s text, to Verge Ausberry, executive deputy director of athletics.

We cannot, nor should anyone, rush to judgment about culpability of the university. LSU has engaged a law firm to investigate the allegations, first raised in a USA Today report. There are inevitably going to be issues raised that are not yet on the public record.

But what’s on the record is damaging, far beyond what police actions or potential legal liability of the university are concerned.

Ausberry is a highly respected figure at LSU and in the state’s leadership. He did not hide his role but told our reporters that he immediately contacted Davis about the text, was told it was not the truth and took the young athlete at his word.

Was that a mistake? Certainly.

Ausberry said he was unaware of the indications of violence in the relationship until months later in 2018, after police investigated an incident and eventually booked Davis. We do not doubt Ausberry’s good intentions, that in retrospect he felt misled by Davis, but there are numerous ways his inaction, a sin of omission, violated university protocols.

The female athlete involved said that she felt betrayed by coaches and the university, although the team's coaches deny that they knew of the problem.

These problems can and must be the subject of searching inquiry. And that should include whether a culture of protection of student athletes — or at least in this case, football players — was or is the underlying reality of life at LSU.

Eventually, the system worked, after a fashion. Davis was expelled, although a state district judge suspended most of the 18-month prison sentence for the young man.

But it did not work very well. The gap between policies and actions seems very wide.