BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A statement by Governor John Bel Edwards as part of his special statewide address about the budget shortfall has many college sports fans up in arms.
"It appears to me, he's holding the state of Louisiana hostage. He's saying, 'You pass my taxes or I'm going to take your football away from you,'" said one caller on the ESPN 104.5 radio show "After Further Review" Friday afternoon.
"He succeeded in getting people's attention, but he failed is his inability to realize the impact of his words," said radio host Matt Mascona.
The words in question were part of the governor's speech, which came just days before the legislature meets for a special session where they will have to deal with the approximately $900 million budget hole.
He said that in a worst-case scenario where the budget is not fixed and taxes are not increased during the special session, Saturday nights could be quite different in Louisiana.
"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," Edwards said.
Some saw the words as a smart move by the governor, suggesting that it was a chance to put the budget woes on the forefront of everyone's mind.
"Now, in a state known for political apathy, these guys instead of calling sports talk shows are going to be calling their representatives and saying,
'Hey the governor said this last night, what's going on with that?" said one caller.
Many others, including Mascona, said there is no chance the season could be canceled, as Edwards indicated. Instead, he called the governor's words a
scare tactic that could ultimately have lasting impacts on things like sports recruitment.
"Every time they're going to sit in a parent's living room to recruit a child, this is a whole new set of objections that they're going to have to answer for parents. 'If my kid chooses you, is there actually going to be a school,'" Mascona said. "Nobody's canceling LSU football, but that's the perception because the highest ranking official in the state threw out some Looney Tunes 'BS' yesterday."
Political analyst Jim Engster said such rhetoric has its risk. It is just a matter of waiting to see whether those risks pay off.
"We can talk about cutting universities, professors, students, classrooms, can have floods, but you can't fool with mother nature and you don't mess with LSU football, and John Bel Edwards has opened a big can of worms and I don't think he anticipated how big a can it is," Engster said.
The concerns stretch beyond just football. Mascona said the uncertain future of the TOPS program puts other sports, including baseball, at risk.
Unlike the many scholarships allotted to the football team, the baseball team only gets 11.7 scholarships. He said coaches often would use TOPS to help spread that sports scholarship money out. In-state students could use TOPS to cover their tuition, while using some of the sports scholarship money to cover other costs like books and meal plans. In this way, the sports scholarship money could help more than simply 11 students.
Mascona said that without the TOPS money, it could be difficult for baseball to recruit players, especially from out of state.
Michael Bonnette with LSU Sports did not wish to issue a response to the governor's remarks, saying the sports program is waiting to see what happens during the special session, which begins Sunday.