General Motors found a cash cow when it created GMAC, its lucrative auto financing arm. People said that GM evolved from being a car maker with a finance company to a financial institution that also made automobiles.
We might say something similar about the nation's public universities. Once, they were educational institutions that offered varsity sports. Now they are becoming sports franchises that educate students as a side business.
Look at Louisiana State University, the Pelican State's flagship public university. According to Tiger Rag, "the Bible of LSU Sports," LSU's football program spent $25 million in salaries and wages last year and lost almost $14 million in Fiscal Year 2022.
LSU's head football coach Brian Kelly makes about $6.5 million annually. Ed Orgeron, who took LSU to a national championship, was bought out in 2021, costing LSU's athletic program $17 million.
Kim Mulkey, LSU's women's basketball coach, makes $2.5 million a year and owns 171 pairs of shoes. She also has a gig endorsing Gordon McKernan, a personal injury lawyer. Her likeness appears on billboards all over Baton Rouge.
Speaking of Gordon McKernan, perhaps Baton Rouge's leading personal injury attorney, he estimates that he gave between $750,000 and $1,000,000 to NIL (short for "Names, Images, and Likeness,") an outfit that helps college athletes sell their "brand" by marketing themselves for cash.
How much money do LSU football players get for selling their brands? According to Tiger Rag, LSU's 85 scholarship football players are worth an average of $479,000!
And then there is the sports betting revenue. LSU proudly announced that it was the first university in the Southeastern Conference to sign a contract with a gaming company. Sports betting is now advertised in Tiger Stadium (along with the Louisiana Lottery).
LSU's spin doctors emphasize that much of the money that pours into LSU athletics comes from its athletic foundation, which is a separate entity from the university. This is true, but does it make sense for wealthy individuals and corporations to get tax breaks for supporting university sports?
LSU's Tiger Athletic Foundation generated $41 million in revenue in 2021, mostly from donations from wealthy individuals and businesses. And LSU is the only school in the SEC that gets more donations for athletics than it does for academics.
Of course, everyone in Louisiana loves sports. I get pumped when the LSU Tigers play one of their arch-rivals during the SEC football season. But who can afford a ticket to a ballgame, much less the eight-dollar beer sold in the stadium?
I wonder whether Louisianians are focused on the right things--the future of our youth, for example.
Louisiana's public universities rank next to last in terms of return on investments for students enrolled in them. According to U.S. News, Louisiana ranks #48 in education. The state is the nation's second poorest, with a poverty rate of almost 18 percent.
Some Louisianians are doing fine. LSU football players get paid to endorse Hooters and a personal injury lawyer. The athletic coaches are getting rich, and even some assistant coaches make more than a million dollars a year.
Maybe Louisians should rethink their priorities. In the meantime, Go Tigers!!
|Kim Mulkey, you look fabulous!