Let’s give University of Louisiana-Lafayette football coach Billy Napier some benefit of the doubt and say that his intentions were probably good. It’s only his idea that was terrible.
During a news conference this week, Napier said that his scholarship players would be required to donate $50 this year to the fundraising arm of the athletic department, a move intended to symbolize a relationship with the program that will go beyond their playing years.
“It’s really all about gratitude,” Napier told the media.
No Billy, it’s all about the arrogance and idiocy of a college athletics industry that can’t stop tripping all over itself in unique and embarrassing ways.
An athletics department spokesman told USA TODAY Sports that shortly after Napier’s news conference Wednesday, the school sent clarification to the local media that the donation was only encouraged, not required. But even at that, this is a fiasco of massive proportions because the very idea of taking $50 out of the athletes’ pockets for an organization that, among other things, helps pay staff salaries should be a complete non-starter. Napier was expected to re-address the topic Friday after it blew up into a national story.
How are people like Napier and the administrators at Louisiana-Lafayette this tone deaf? How is it possible that the idea of football players giving money back to the school would come up in a meeting and nobody at the school would storm the doors with flashing red lights to tell them to stop before they did something so dumb in an environment where the national conversation — not to mention pending state and federal legislation — is drifting toward the idea that college athletes should have more opportunities to make money, not less.
And the worst part? Napier actually bragged about it.
“A big initiative that we wanted to get done with our players is just educate them about the RCAF (Rajin’ Cajun Athletic Fund), what they do for the student-athletes at UL relative to the fundraising that goes into their scholarships, certainly the cost relative to paying for these guys and their education and things that go into being student-athletes.”
Again, from 35,000 feet, there’s nothing wrong with the sentiment Napier is trying to impart on his players. Louisiana plays in the Sun Belt. It isn’t a cash cow like its neighbor LSU, and to make the numbers work and provide the players with scholarships and amenities is a heavy fundraising lift.
Billy Napier stepped way out of bounds with his initial requirement of a donation from his players. (Photo: Scott Clause/USA TODAY Network)
But to put any of that on the players — even $50 — is not what they’re on campus for. The players provide the entertainment in exchange for that scholarship. The players wear the uniforms that carry the school’s brand while the NCAA prevents them from trading on their name, image and likeness. The players will put their bodies on the line on Aug. 31 against Mississippi State while the athletic department rakes in cash.
That’s already enough of a one-sided transaction in favor of the school. Louisiana-Lafayette doesn’t need to make it worse.
The act of giving money to any cause suggests not only a desire to contribute but an ability to do so. In this case, the players aren’t giving it because they want to — it’s because their coach has nudged them. Not to mention that for many, removing $50 from their budget might be a pretty big deal.
“That’s probably a little bit unheard of and a little bit unique but this is a place where I think that would be appreciated, and it’s part of the type of program we want to have,” Napier said. “We want our players to be educated and understand the benefits that come with being a student-athlete and it’s not something that should be taken lightly, the effort and time and investment that people who support athletics at UL have put into this program.”
It’s unheard of because it’s an awful idea and something it’s hard to imagine any other program doing.
The collegiate model that the NCAA is trying to preserve is already under enough pressure right now from years of litigation, not to mention a bill being circulated by legislators in California and increasing interest from members of Congress. Whether any of those things completely blow up the outdated notion of amateurism is unknown, but enough stress has been put on the system to bring it closer to an inflection point where the status quo isn’t acceptable.
The idea that some administrators at Louisiana-Lafayette are now trying to turn the clock back 20 years is not only mind-blowing, but gives more fuel to people like U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who have been calling for change because the people in charge of college athletics don’t seem to get the seriousness of the issue.
“Every day that the NCAA sits back and does nothing, the chances of legislation increase,” Murphy told USA TODAY Sports earlier this month. “So at some point — there’s so many members of Congress that have approached me about legislation that I know there’s interest there. … And that interest just grows as people continue to watch the NCAA claim there’s no problem here.”
The kind of nonsense going on at Louisiana-Lafayette is Exhibit A for why it’s hard to trust the people who work in college athletics to change from within. If they think encouraging football players to contribute $50 to the fundraising arm of their athletics department is a good idea, you can only imagine what their bad ones look like.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken