The college football arms race can often be summed up by simply looking at a Power 5 school’s athletic facilities.

The thought process goes like this: prospective student-athletes don’t want to play for a school with run-down facilities, or even facilities that are slightly behind the times compared to your more prestigious programs. Therefore, schools are constantly having to update their locker rooms, player lounges, etc. in order to “keep up with the Joneses,” or in this case, the schools with the best athletic facilities.

Drew Kerekes

Drew Kerekes

It’s why Auburn has been raising money to fund a football-only facility. It’s why a quick Google images search of “Oregon football facilities” or “Clemson football facilities” will pull up pictures of complexes that look like palaces. The best college football players in the country are certainly blessed with immaculate places to spend time, whether that time is devoted to practice or weight lifting or simply lounging.

Is there such a thing as too much luxury for athletes, though, when the school at large has certain parts in disrepair? That’s the question people asked when the official LSU Football Twitter account posted a video last week showing off their new locker room, complete with sleeping pods, of all things.

The contrast pointed out by more than a few responses to the tweet highlighted just how fancy and up-to-date the school’s football locker room is compared to the school’s library, which is in bad need of some updates, judging by the picture I saw in which there were several puddles due to leaking. In one Baton Rouge Advocate article (https://bit.ly/2ZjBjSJ), Robert Mann, a professor of mass communication at LSU, said the willingness to spend money on LSU’s athletic complexes while certain academic facilities — such as the library — are in disrepair is evidence of Louisiana valuing athletics more than academics.

In the same article, the state’s cuts to higher academics and a backlog of capital needs are mentioned to provide more context to the argument. In a time where the school could use money allocated to the academic side of things, what does it say about people’s priorities if $28 million to fund athletic facility improvements comes far more easily?

People are right to question this, and I’m glad the discussion is happening. Still, here are some facts I think tend to get overlooked in this debate:

•The money funding the improvements to LSU’s athletic facility came via private donations by the Tiger Athletic Foundation. No state funds were used, nor did it come out of the student population’s tuition.

•Most people probably realize this, and their contention isn’t the source of the money, but the fact that people would rather donate to upgrade football locker rooms than upgrade the school’s library. It’s not a complaint about the Tiger Athletic Foundation’s ability to fundraise, it’s a complaint about private individuals’ priorities.

•Here is where the economic reality comes into play. LSU football brings in tens of millions of dollars annually. That money, along with the money brought in by LSU men’s basketball, helps fund other sports, both men’s and women’s, at the university. Further, LSU football is also good for the Louisiana economy. You think state officials want to get rid of Tigers football? Not likely.

•If you’re a student at LSU asking why a certain segment of the student population should have access to top-of-the-line facilities while the rest of the students have to deal with a run-down library, consider this: A portion of the school’s athletic profits goes toward academics. In addition to the revenue LSU football brings the university, the school having a football team that is annually in the top-25 attracts prospective students, which in turn generates tuition dollars. All of this is happening in a system in which the athletes don’t see any of the money the school brings in from athletics.

•Finally, you cannot ignore how a portion of LSU’s football roster is made up of players who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, who may not have gotten the opportunity at a higher education were it not for the football team. Ideally, these players will either go on to the NFL or leave LSU with a degree and no student loan debt, or both.

Tiger fans demand their football program be great, and the football players are the ones having to balance an academic schedule and athletics. They put in countless hours of practice, strength and conditioning and other obligations so fans can be satisfied with the product on Saturday afternoons in the fall. If they’re not seeing any of the profits that system brings in, then it’s difficult for me to be outraged at these athletes having certain special privileges, like a state-of-the-art locker room with sleeping pods.

Are academics more important than athletics? Absolutely. Few college athletes will go pro in their respective sports, and even fewer will end up making tens of millions of dollars. A degree goes a long way and is statically far more likely to result in economic security than going pro in a sport. The greater point that people should prioritize academics over athletics is correct, and people are right to question why so many are far more likely to donate to a locker room’s renovations than a fundraising effort to improve the school’s library.

But to ignore the larger context in this discussion is a mistake. If student-athletes aren’t going to see any of the profits their labor brings to the school, then from an economic standpoint, it’s difficult for me to be too outraged over an admittedly over-the-top nice locker room, even if I think we as a society need to reexamine our priorities. 

Drew Kerekes is the sports editor at The Meridian Star. He can be reached at dkerekes@themeridianstar.com.

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