Louisiana is facing a budget shortfall of nearly $1 billion just for this year, and its new governor, John Bel Edwards, said last week that the crisis puts college sports – including LSU's football program – in danger.
LSU currently isn't guaranteed enough funding to stay operational for the rest of the fiscal year. If the school doesn't get enough funding and has to close, there's a potential problem for football players and every other athlete at any public institution in Louisiana facing the same budgetary challenge:
If LSU is forced to close prior to the completion of the spring semester, all students would receive an "Incomplete" grade for the period. By NCAA rules, student athletes receiving an Incomplete grade are not eligible to participate in competition. That means that all players, in all sports, at all public universities in the state of Louisiana would be ineligible to participate.
Edwards framed the potential problem in stark terms, via WWLTV:
"If you are a student attending one of these universities, it means that you will receive a grade of incomplete, many students will not be able to graduate, and student-athletes across the state at those schools will be ineligible to play next semester."
"That means you can say farewell to college football next fall."
LSU president F. King Alexander reiterated February 29 that losing football this year is a legitimate possibility, and he brushed away the idea that talk of its demise is hyperbole.
"I know a lot of people will say, ‘Well, that's not going to happen,'" he said referring to the prospect of LSU football being hurt. "Well, that will happen if we don't have summer school. We'll only have half of our football team eligible."
"It's not us saying that," Alexander said. "It's the NCAA telling us that â that student athletes have to be eligible to play. And yes, classes and sports go together. They're student athletes, you can't have one without the other."
The state's public universities are already taking hits
Critical scholarship aid for the majority of LSU's students is very much in danger. Absent a budget agreement to alleviate the shortage there, these students (including a lot of LSU student-athletes on the same aid plan) will need to pay their own way - provided the school is even open to attend.
Still, it's hard to imagine the state actually moves forward with not playing LSU football games, and a politician like Edwards surely knows this. It's also worth noting LSU's athletic department says it passes an average of $8.7 million along to the university per year and that the Tigers don't require student athletics fees. In 2015, they were one of seven public NCAA members listed as taking no athletic subsidy money.
And yet, that Edwards is even floating the idea in such a football-hungry state underscores the seriousness of Louisiana's current situation. Nicholls State, another public university in the state, is reportedly considering a two- or three-week closure to save money later in the spring semester. Grambling State is suspending its search for a new athletic director. Louisiana Tech saw a three-star wide receiver recruit decommit due to "recent political events." Higher education could absorb about $70 million in cuts as part of the the state's digging-out from a roughly $940 million shortage, and that's going to hurt somewhere, if not on the field.