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Will LSU Play Football In 2016? Yes. No. Maybe. (Probably)

Adam Henderson

Hey! Politics! Behave or I'll throw you out the air lock! Also, I am assuming that A.) I don't have to say for the 3672th time on this website that LSU Athletics receives no state dollars and actually gives the university Millions in funding every year and B.) None of you are stupid enough to mention that f'ing UREC Lazy River nonsense story from last year. M'Kay?

As a rule, this site tries to #StickToSports as much as it can. Frankly, the only thing discussed on the internet with more blind partisanship and ugly name calling than college football is politics. So know that the situation with the Louisiana state budget has entered into such a decrepit financial apocalypse that it now very much becomes a problem to the world of LSU sports. Let's start with the immediate TOPS crisis and work our way up to "OMG LSU FOOTBALL IS CANCELED!!!11!!"

As you are no doubt well aware, Louisiana is in a hole. A BIG hole. The current estimate from the state office responsible for such things pegs the current fiscal year budget deficit at $940 Million. That's a figure that the state can not easily cover. So where's the money going to come from? To give a very brief lesson in Louisiana Civics, the state constitution explicitly protects the funding of almost every responsibility of the state, with the large exceptions of the departments of Public Health and Education. Since 2010, both of these areas have seen repeated severe annual funding cuts to make up the difference in an ever widening hole in the state budget. On the public health side, it's led to the closure of hospitals across the state. In Higher Education, the cuts have drastically damaged the state's universities, deferring much needed maintenance and repair work, and completely derailing the famous "Flagship Agenda" plan to turn LSU into a nation-leading research institution. State funding for higher education overall has been cut every year from a peak of $1.13 Billion in 2009 down to $535 Million in 2015, with more cuts expected again this year even before the current situation.

If you're someone who was born and raised in Louisiana over the last 35+ years, you know about TOPS. The "Taylor Plan", the 1997 brainchild of LSU Petroleum Engineering grad Patrick F. Taylor, is a state funded scholarship that provides a full tuition scholarship to all academically qualifying Louisiana high school graduates for attendance at any public institution in the state. The program has been successful with providing access to higher education to families who would have no other means and has been copied by 23 other states in some form or fashion. I went to LSU on TOPS. It's a safe bet to guess that many of you reading this right now were able to attend LSU or another public institution in this state thanks to the tuition provided by TOPS.

As of yesterday, the state has suspended all payments to universities for scholarships in the TOPS program. Students currently enrolled will be fine for the current semester in progress, but unless some method of funding TOPS is found, those students will be responsible for paying their own way going forward. More than 50% of the students currently attending LSU are doing so on the TOPS program.

This includes many LSU student athletes in sports like baseball and softball where the NCAA limits how many scholarships a team can have and how it can be divided. Baseball in particular has stringent rules that limits a 35 man roster to just 11.7 scholarships to dole out. The NCAA allows programs like TOPS to be used by players to make up the difference. LSU has 18 players on the roster this season from Louisiana, all of whom use TOPS to cover some or all of their scholarship. Like RHP Alden Cartwright.

By the state's own estimates, there seems to be no chance that the TOPS program will be fully funded again next year, which will cause many of LSU's students to have to find another way to pay for tuition. It was odd to note that the state expects schools to "absorb" the cost of the TOPS funds that are not coming for this semester, because...

The state doesn't have the money right now to keep the lights on at LSU past April 30th. Shortly after the news about the TOPS program got around, Gov. Edwards gave a televised address to the state, detailing the mess the state budget is in and what he believes needs to be done in the legislative session that starts this Sunday to address the massive shortfall. Among the facts and figures was the revelation that LSU and the other universities in the state will soon be unable to make payroll.

This led to a line that you've no doubt read or heard in some form or fashion: "That means you can say farewell to college football next fall." While that statement is certainly describing the outcome of the worst case scenario for the state budget, it is in no way incorrect. If LSU is forced to close prior to the completion of the spring semester, all students would receive an "Incomplete" grade for the period. By NCAA rules, student athletes receiving an Incomplete grade are not eligible to participate in competition. That means that all players, in all sports, at all public universities in the state of Louisiana would be ineligible to participate.

How likely is that to happen? My guess is somewhere around "not very". The financial penalties from the SEC alone for suddenly not fielding a football team are no doubt in the millions, possibly hundreds of millions of dollars. And while it's certainly not a factually incorrect statement, the Governor's words are purposely chosen. Because "Louisiana Budget Problems" doesn't make an interesting headline, but "LSU might have to cancel football" certainly does.

But it is a possibility. To put it bluntly, teachers don't work for free. And if the checks stop coming, a faculty that has endured more that half a decade of repeated furloughs, pay freezes, expanding class sizes, vanishing federal grant money, and deteriorating class rooms will have no qualms about hitting the door. But that is the extreme outcome of a failed legislative session where politics brings the state to a halt while people bicker about who's fault this mess is and who is the spawn of the Devil for proposing this cut and that tax.

And surely, the situation is dire enough that that would not happen here in Louisiana, right?


And, oh yeah, next fiscal year is already projected to have a budget shortfall around $2 Billion dollars. So be prepared to do this again next year. Wooooooooo.