Is LSU’s new football facility and nutrition center over the top?

Absolutely.

Of course, that begs another question:

Is it necessary?

Absolutely not. Not if you merely want to exist as a football program. But if you want to compete with the Alabamas, Clemsons, Ohio States and even Oregons of the college football world, you have to deliver a knock-your-eyes-out blow when you can.

LSU academically does not match up across the board with some of the top schools in the country, or even in the Southeastern Conference. Schools like Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Florida. So to woo the best football players, it has to give them something cutting edge special — as tough a moving target as that is to hit.


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LSU has done that. With its radical locker room with its sleeping pods to its customizable sports drink fountains (players can adjust the sodium, flavor and even electrolyte content of their beverages) to its high-tech wizardry throughout, it is truly an amazing facility.

No, there is no slide or laser tag room like Clemson built, no waterfall in the hydrotherapy pool area like at Alabama, and no Nepalese rugs or Ferrari leather seats could be seen like those in the football ops building at Oregon. Though yes, there are bells and whistles, as in the hallway with blank torsos onto which projectors can show images of the jerseys of current NFL players from LSU.

But mostly the program appears to have gone with a form follows function approach. Case in point, and probably the most underpublicized part of the building: the “walkthrough” room which projects opposing team’s formations on about a 50-foot wall, allowing players to put what they have just seen on traditional film study into practical use by stepping next door. It is said to be the only one of its kind in college football — at least as of close of business Wednesday.

As for the nutrition center, it resembles the multi-station buffet on a sparkling new mega cruise liner. There are places for salads, pizza, hot entrees, deserts (of course) and even a charcuterie board (if you are a fan of “Modern Family” you know they are killing themselves with that name). During Wednesday’s ribbon cutting ceremonies and tour, I was tempted to ask someone if they could whip me up a kale, quinoa and kiwi smoothie with a touch of bacon. One look at that place and you had to figure it was within reach.

What is not there in the $28 million facility is a dollar spent that was pulled out of the hands of a regular student or member of LSU’s faculty, or from repairs on the leaky basement at the school’s now multi-controversial Middleton Library. The money for it all came from private donations via TAF, LSU athletics’ fundraising arm.

Now, you can argue whether it is more necessary to build such a football palace when LSU’s library has sprung many leaks. Or when the entire campus has about $1 billion in deferred maintenance issues. But this is also the school that built an LSU-shaped lazy river at its revamped student recreation center (with student fees), so there are lots of priorities to question here beyond the scope of a 100-yard football field.



These sorts of tug of wars have been going on at LSU for decades. In the 1930s, athletic director Skipper Heard wanted to expand the stadium and school President James Smith wanted dormitories. The dorms were built into the stadium expansion project. In the 1950s, there was a fight over whether to enclose the south end of Tiger Stadium to create a 67,500-seat bowl with about 25,000 new seats or to build Middleton Library in the first place. After a protracted battle in the state legislature, the stadium was expanded, then the library was built.

The fallacy comes in when you try to argue that if someone like former LSU All-American Tyrann Mathieu was not donating money for his namesake players lounge at the new football facility that he would automatically be cutting the same check to academics. Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. You can’t tell people how to spend their money, or how they want to give it.

To that end, though, LSU President F. King Alexander insists donations to the school’s academic side over the past year outstripped athletic donations by more than 2-to-1. As someone who takes the disintegrating South Quad Drive in front of the remodeled $100-million plus Patrick Taylor Hall (College of Engineering) to football practice and press conferences every week in the fall, I’d like to see someone find the money for a repaving project. But I digress.

LSU’s goal, as new athletic director Scott Woodward said, should be to be top notch in physics and football. Perhaps a facility like this will help LSU be better at both. Athletics should be the front porch of a university, attracting high-quality students and funding, not the other way round.

Perhaps one day, a school will rise up and try to be the anti-lavish spending example. They may tell recruits, “We have a locker room with nails on the wall and a splintered stool for each player to sit on, because THAT MAKES YOU TOUGH!!!” Or schools will have to spend money on compensating players like the New Orleans Saints do (its locker room is hardly what one would call decadent).

Meanwhile, other schools are spending over the top, too: $50 million on new football facilities at Auburn and South Carolina. Fifty-five million at Clemson (wonder what the slide cost?).

It’s easy, at the moment, to make LSU the poster child for what ails big-time college athletics. At least until the next mega-tricked out facility comes on line, which could be any day now.

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com