In an interview today with Tiger Rag, new LSU athletic director Scott Woodward announced a change in the funds transfer policy that has been in place between the athletic department and university since 2012.
The plan, initially put in place by then-AD Joe Alleva and previous university leadership, was initially designed to help with budget shortfalls created by a loss of state appropriations to LSU.
“It’s something that’s very dangerous, when universities rely on recurring money, especially from an auxiliary like the athletic department,” Woodward said. “So no, I think, while I will always support the university in some form or fashion, we cannot sustain what we’re currently doing.”
Woodward confirmed his belief that it’s not the athletics department’s responsibility to bail a state school out.
He also eschewed any responsibility the Tiger Athletic Foundation might have to incentivize donors to donate to the LSU Foundation or the LSU Alumni Association.
“I think that’s the wrong question,” he said when asked about that possibility. “I think the right question is ‘What are our current donors at TAF doing for the university?’ And I have a feeling that… in both places I’ve been (Texas A&M and Washington), on average they give 1.5 times more to the academic side. I’m sure that’s the case here.”
Senior AD for external communications Robert Munson later offered some clarity to The Advocate’s Brooks Kubena:
#LSU senior AD of external communications Robert Munson on the @Tiger_Rag story on the fund-transfer policy: pic.twitter.com/9NgLqNAJU6— Brooks Kubena (@BKubena) July 29, 2019
What began as an initial promise of $36 million became approximately $50 million between 2012 and 2017. It was initially designed to bandage the bullet wound of the state budget crisis. Unfortunately, what was originally intended as a bridge to a long-term solution between LSU and the legislature, became just another part of the budgetary road map. A significant strain on the athletic department’s resources, and a disincentive to fix the larger problem.
In my opinion, there’s good and bad here. On the one hand, it’s an obvious boon for athletic department revenue. Especially with the SEC’s media rights deals in some state of flux over the next decade or so. Plus, in the long-term, having the athletic department helping to keep the lights on for the university isn’t sustainable for either party — so cutting these funds off could spur the state and the university to find a better long-term plan to fund LSU. Woodward also indicates that this is less about the AD keeping more money and more about everyone finding a better way to work together.
However, in the short-term it’s a hit to a university that has multiple active deferred maintenance issues. And on top of that, just horrible timing one week after the announcement of the new Football Ops renovation sparked a debate over the priorities of education versus athletics. It’s 100-percent true that the renovation was entirely self-funded and has no impact on the state of other buildings on campus, that said, it’s still not a great look to have airplane-style sleeping pods for football players while the university library looks like crap.
It’s not a fair debate or a particularly valid comparison, but the perception is what it is and LSU has to live with that.
Personally, I found another quote from Woodward far more interesting:
“You can’t just bifurcate or trifurcate our donors as TAF donors or LSU Foundation Donors or Alumni Association donors or Ag donors or whatever kind of donors you want to put in. You get a cross in all sorts of ways. We feed off each other, and it’s a very healthy, positive thing.”
This gets to another major problem that LSU has never really dealt with despite the urgency of the budget crisis: a fractured fundraising apparatus. The university’s principle fundraising organization, The LSU Foundation, the LSU Alumni Association and the Tiger Athletic Foundation struggle to cooperate. In the past, the relationships could be described as somewhat territorial and with its share of animosity. There have been disputes over “our donors” that do nothing to help service what should be the overall goal of all three organizations. I can’t speak to any specifics, but it would not surprise me at all if some of TAF’s larger donors aren’t approached by the Foundation, or vice-versa.
It’s not an unknown problem among university leadership, either. So if Woodward has plans to improve how the fundraising machines work and cooperate that could be a huge benefit to LSU in the future. His history includes working in university advancement and legislative relations on top of athletics, so one would think he has the skill set to work with the different organizations involved.
Ultimately, the short-term financial hit can pay off in the long run if the parties involved (university leadership, the legislature and both the current and any future governors) can learn to make LSU less reliant on athletic funds, and state appropriations more secure.
Will that happen? I don’t blame anyone for being less than optimistic.