College football is tantamount to religion in the South.
So when John Bel Edwards (D) went on television Thursday night and threatened to cut college football due to the state's massive budget deficit, SEC fans and sports enthusiasts reacted as if the Louisiana governor had spoken blasphemy over the state's airwaves.
Louisiana has a budget crisis to contend with this fiscal year. As the Times-Picayune reports:
The governor's staff announced Thursday that the state's current year budget deficit has reached $940 million—a price tag larger than the annual spending on LSU's Baton Rouge campus and all of New Orleans public higher education institutions combined. The state must find a way to close the gaping budget gap by June 30, when it shuts the books on the fiscal year.
Once it resolves that budget crisis, Louisiana will be facing an immediate $2 billion shortfall in the next fiscal cycle, which starts July 1. Edwards is proposing cuts—but also large tax hikes—to deal with the financial crises both this year and next year.
Those tax hikes include nine proposed increases on items such as alcohol, cigarettes, and rental cars to raise revenue and might even include raising rates on personal incomes. The suggested increases have been described as the "largest in state history" by state treasurer John Kennedy.
Which is probably why state legislators aren't buying Edwards' plan. So the governor held a rare televised address to tell constituents that budget cuts would mean canceled classes for college students— and yes—even college football would be in peril come fall.
But Edwards' threat to cut college football is somewhat disingenuous, especially since the Louisiana State University (LSU) program actually generates revenue. While many schools receive state funds, LSU is one of seven NCAA Division I programs that does not accept state subsidies. In fact, LSU's athletic program generated so much revenue last season that it transferred over $10 million to the university's general academic fund.
So clearly, college football—or at least LSU's program—isn't quite the albatross around the state budget's neck that the governor wants the public to believe.
And cutting subsidies to the rest of the state's college football programs won't do a thing to solve the budget crisis Louisiana currently faces. Les Miles makes a lot of money, but not enough to put a dent in a projected $2 billion budget hole.
Instead of seeking long-term reforms that would stabilize state spending, the governor wants to scare the public by threatening to cancel football season to generate support for higher taxes. Someone throw a flag on this guy.