To the surprise of exactly no one, the instant the LSU athletic department proudly unveiled its latest keeping-up-with-the-jones Taj Mahal of a football operations facility and locker room the critics began charging with the ferocity of an Alabama defensive end heat-seeking a befuddled Tiger quarterback.
Bob Mann, an LSU communications professor and one-time political operative for former Sen. Russell Long and Gov. Kathleen Blanco, turned to his favorite campus passion, bemoaning the sorry and decrepit state of the Middleton Library before oddly letting us know he cleans his office with a Dust Devil bought at Walmart. (Given his six-figure salary, one might think he could upgrade to a Dyson, but I’m not one to tell others how to spend their money.)
Yet, Mann was hardly a one-man show on the internet troll bandwagon. Higher education leaders across the state, LSU student leaders and plenty of others—who, based on their spelling and grammar, have never seen the inside of a university classroom—were quick with the GIF-illustrated compare-and-contrasts between the opulence of LSU’s football facility and the blighted state of the academic buildings that reside literally on the other side of the tracks.
Even The Chronicle of Higher Education, which has an obsessive fascination with LSU’s lazy river and the lifestyle of the university’s rich and famous football program, chimed in with this headline: “LSU Just Unveiled A $28-Million Football Facility. The Flood-Damaged Library Is Still ‘Decrepit.’”
And then there’s the LSU student Senate member who took the opportunity to complain about the misplaced spending priorities of pretty much everyone who claims to live purple and bleed gold. What she failed to mention is her fellow students opting to finance a first-class L-S-U-shaped lazy river over repairing the third-world embarrassment known as Allen Hall. (Seriously, have you been in the basement of that place? Scary.)
In other words, if we can’t have nice things, then they shouldn’t have nice things either.
That’s so Louisiana.
Look, feel free to get mad about all this stuff —and more. No doubt, the stately oaks and broad magnolias are shading some mighty uninspiring halls.
Bitch and moan about donors writing bigger checks to TAF than they do to the LSU Foundation, assuming they even bother writing a check to the academic side.
Go nuts demanding a Legislature that believes both taxes and state spending are too high prioritize the capital outlay cash necessary to address what the Board of Regents says is nearly $1 billion in deferred maintenance across the LSU System.
But while you’re doing all that cathartic woe is me, please also do this: Stop blaming football for these very real problems.
Let’s get serious, LSU football, which built a state-of-the-art building when Nick Saban came here, had to build this new state-of-the-art building because Saban, when he went to Alabama, built an even better state-of-the-art building than he had here.
Bluntly put, massage pools, five-star dining halls, high-tech meeting rooms, tricked out weight rooms and lockers with chairs that become pull-out beds is what you’ve got to have if you want to seriously compete for national titles.
Praise coaches as geniuses all you like, but it’s the players who put their bodies on the line each and every Saturday night in Death Valley who win championships. And to get the kind of players LSU once got, and the kind Alabama and Clemson are getting today, the athletic department and TAF have to invest—legally—in whatever it takes to attract that talent. And until the NCAA drops the amateur charade and lets universities pay their cash-generating athletes then bling facilities are the next best thing.
And stop with the optics talk. Set aside the fact that not a penny of the $28 million price tag came from the taxpayer trough, and think about what this place did to Les Miles once it became clear he had clue zero about beating Saban and Alabama.
Try this thought on for size: The reason boosters give more readily to football is because that program aspires for prominence. There’s no talk about southern regional averages or celebrating the bottom of Tier 1 rankings.
LSU football is one of the few things in a state that so embraces its mediocrity that actually strives to be the best.
Don’t hate them for it. Celebrate it.
Rather than drag football into the mosh pit of inferiority, demand that F. King Alexander and everyone else running LSU come up with an equally audacious plan for excellence. And if they somehow do it, then have the courage to get rid of any governor or state legislator who stands in the way.
Do that, and I suspect donors will respond.
In the meantime, LSU has an incredible campus master plan that not only includes a new library but is basically the academic equivalent of what football just built.
The only thing missing is the money to build it. Give us a vision of greatness, LSU, and the money will come.