Opinion: Louisiana-Lafayette football coach needs lesson in what 'donation' really means
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 reappeared in front of the media Friday after this blew up into a national story and said he misspoke the first time, and that the program was voluntary. However, he clearly doubled-down on the donation as a positive gesture as opposed to a completely misguided and inappropriate idea that never should have seen the light of day.
"If they can't afford it or maybe they feel like they’re stretched a little thin, they can easily come see me personally, or if they disagree with it they can see me personally, and I’ll pay theirs on my behalf," Napier said. "This is something I think we need. I think young people need it, and I feel like it’s part of my job to teach them those principles and values that go along with our football program.
"And we’re talking about $50 a year for four years, $200 bucks, $4 and a quarter a month, 17 cents a day to basically say thank you to the people who have contributed to their experience."
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 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.
"I just want everybody to know the intention here is to create a culture within our building that we’re grateful for what we have and the opportunity of what’s in front of us," Napier said Friday. "And we want to educate our players about the process of where their scholarship comes from, where their cost of attendance check comes from … all the investment that goes into our athletic department and the university and the support they’ve given our players."
Again, from 35,000 feet, there’s nothing wrong with the sentiment Napier is trying to impart . Louisiana-Lafayette 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.
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