Louisiana Budget Crisis Highlights Benefits of LSU’s Resistance to Subsidies

The budget crisis in Louisiana is so bad that it apparently threatens the upcoming college football season. This is according to the state’s new Democratic governor John Bel Edwards. The current yearly budget deficit has reached $940 million. The situation is so dire that higher education in the state faces the realistic possibility of running out of money and taking college sports with it.

Even though all Louisiana state funded colleges are faced with this harsh reality, the focal point of much of the public’s scorn is directed at the possibility of no LSU football this coming season. Much of the old south is Southeastern Conference (SEC) country and college football commands more attention there than even professional sports. Thus, the emotion that comes with the threat of not having LSU football looms much larger in the minds of many Louisianans than the threat of cancellation of other school’s athletics or even the possibility of academic shutdown on campuses. In the land of the SEC, college football will grab headlines over most other issues. This is especially true when its very existence is being threatened.

Upon closer inspection of Louisiana’s state budget, one can see that a major culprit for the deficit has been corporate giveaways. Under former governor Bobby Jindal’s predecessor, money given to the six largest recipients of government subsidies totaled $200 million. But under Jindal, that amount grew to $1 billion. Combine this with the state’s 400 other handouts, plus the raiding of rainy day funds to cover shortfalls and you have a recipe for a budget disaster.

So in order to put Louisiana’s fiscal house back in order, Governor Edwards has proposed one of the largest tax increases in state history. Taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, rental cars and other items are due to be increased as a part of the governor’s proposal. But given that Edwards is facing a legislature controlled by Republicans, many of these tax increases appear unlikely. A bipartisan compromise will probably be reached combining some tax hikes with some spending cuts.

But of all the things to threaten to shut down, why did Edwards target higher education and college sports? The answer lies in an old political trick called Washington Monument Syndrome (or sometimes Mount Rushmore Syndrome). This is a phenomenon where a government facing some sort of revenue shortfall or budget crisis will cut government funds which cause the most visible pain. Once the public witnesses this pain, opinion shifts in a direction that the government desires it to shift to. In this case, the state’s governor wants to pass certain tax increases. If he doesn’t get what he wants, college football could be cancelled statewide. In the state of Louisiana, few actions would cause more pain and public outcry than the cancellation of a college football season. Thus, a public official will use this to threaten the people he supposedly serves in order to pass his desired legislation.

The peculiar thing about LSU specifically is that they are one of only seven Division One programs which don’t accept state subsidies (the others being Texas, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Nebraska and Purdue). In fact, LSU’s athletic program generated so much revenue last year that it transferred over $10 million to the school’s academic program. Clearly LSU football can survive without taxpayer money, since they do so already. Again, cancelling of the state’s biggest college football program is simply a scare tactic used to further a political agenda. After the aforementioned compromise is most assuredly reached between Edwards and the legislature, politicians from both parties will probably point to LSU’s football team taking the field in the fall as some great political achievement even though the school’s athletic department didn’t need or spend their money in the first place.

As for the rest of the state of Louisiana’s higher education system, this sad state of affairs is an unfortunate lesson in what can happen when government assumes control of an institution. The competency of that institution will be subject to the whims of those who control that government. Any budgetary failings of public officials who dole out this money will inevitably affect those that are so reliant on it. If college were independent of government, then the influx of money would not be based on an appropriation from a government but the ability to provide a service (education in this case) to the public. After all, there is no imminent crisis in Louisiana regarding the sale and purchase of food, electronics or automobiles. This is because people generally spend their own money on these things without intervention from the government. If education were treated like any of these things, then it would be independent of government failings and different educational institutions would be sinking or swimming based on their own merits. But sadly, these colleges and universities will likely not learn their lesson and continue to look for funding from the very organization that is causing their current laundry list of problems.

Conventional Perception of Leadership Driving Negative Opinions of Cam Newton

The two week lead up to the Super Bowl typically gives enough time for those in the sports media to dwell on seemingly every possible angle before the big game. Usually one or maybe a couple of stories dominate the headlines and sports talk shows. Among those big stories this year seems to be the constant asking of why such a large portion of sports fans across the country hate Carolina Panther’s Quarterback Cam Newton. There appears to be no one clear answer, though several theories persist.

Newton is frequently seen in celebratory mode after scoring touchdowns. His dance routines following scores seem to be what rubs so many people the wrong way. Celebrating in this way is thought to be arrogant and unnecessary by those who criticize him. But if we dig deeper, we see that there are many more layers to Newton’s dislike than merely attributing it to his post-TD rituals.

Unsurprisingly, race has been tossed out by some as a reason for the abundance of Newton’s disfavor. According to this theory, many people don’t like the way Newton conducts himself in celebration because of certain stereotypes that still surround blacks in America. A somewhat related claim has also been made about the urban culture (which applies to some, but not all American blacks) that Newton represents and how it is something that the rest of America has difficulty relating to. But both of these claims fail to address why there isn’t similar disdain for wide receivers and running backs who often dance and express an abundance of emotion after scoring touchdowns. After all, not only is the NFL roughly 2/3 black, but the wide receiver and running back positions are dominated by blacks to an even greater degree. Why would race and culture fuel a resentment of Newton, but not other players who are so frequently of the same race and background?

Much of the answer to that question lies in the position in which Newton has had so much success. Quarterbacks are often referred to as “the face of their team” and even more often as the team’s “leader.” Different standards are applied to leaders than those they lead. Many people prefer leaders to be more reserved emotionally. This gives the perception of a more “grounded” leader who is thought to not let his emotions get the best of him. While others may be off dancing and celebrating, the leader is imagined to be calmer and more level headed in order to deal with the added pressures that come from his job. Thus, when these people see Newton showing the kind of emotion he shows, it flies in the face of what they perceive leadership to look like.

The image of a less emotional and more stoic leader doesn’t just persist in the sports world, but in Hollywood as well. In the climactic scene of the 1995 movie Apollo 13, when it first becomes apparent that the main characters have made it safely back to earth, seemingly everyone in the movie seems to be erupting with emotion by clapping, shouting, hugging, or doing a variety of all three. However, the NASA flight Director (played by Ed Harris) doesn’t do any of these things. He shows a bit of relief as he slumps down into his chair exhausted. This character’s lack of emotion is not by accident. The film’s director, Ron Howard, knew the way he wanted the character to act at the moment that those he led were celebrating. His subdued emotion exemplifies his status as a leader that much of the viewing audience could relate to. Many other movies also portray a leader with these near emotionless characteristics that remain even in times of celebration for other characters that they supervise.

All of this leads us back to Newton and why people are so uncomfortable with the way he celebrates success. Here we have a quarterback and leader of his team showing just as much if not even more emotion than that of the players he leads. Those who don’t like this characteristic of Newton will also find it unsettling that his team has been wildly successful this year despite his unconventional leadership style. If Carolina were a bad or mediocre team, then the narrative would be that Newton could have more success if he were less concerned with dancing and celebrating and more concerned with helping his team win. Well, despite all of that dancing and celebrating, Newton’s team has won more games than any other NFL team this season.

Thanks to Newton, the public may be forced to change the way it perceives NFL quarterbacks and the dynamics of leadership that they provide. Rather than being seen as a negative or a detriment to their team, celebrating in the way that Newton does tells us that leaders can show this kind of emotion and still be considered elite in their position. Future NFL quarterbacks displaying this kind of flair may be favorably compared to Newton rather than being maligned as unserious distractions. But it’s difficult to be among the first top tier quarterbacks to exhibit this kind of unconventionality. Those similar to Newton who come after him might have an easier go of it.