Is Southern On The Brink Of Collapse?
By ALVIN HOLLINS JR.
(April 6, 2011) When one thinks of the elite and legendary athletic programs among America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Louisiana’s Southern University quickly comes to mind along with Florida A&M, Grambling, Jackson State, Tennessee State and South Carolina State heading the class.
Southern ’s athletic program has produced Olympians, all-star alumni in pro football, the NBA and major league baseball, with members in the College Football, Major League Baseball and NFL Halls of Fame.
But that golden sports legacy has taken its’ share of hits in recent years due largely to the economic downturn in Louisiana, which has led to budget cuts in higher education that have trickled down to Southern’s athletic department.
And the most recent ‘hit’ came over the weekend, when Southern’s athletic director, Greg LaFleur was arrested for allegedly soliciting for prostitution in Houston, during the Final Four. LaFleur was in town to interview candidates for the vacant men’s basketball coaching job.
LaFleur, who was not a popular choice among many Southernites when he was appointed six years ago, has had his share of troubles including the management of an athletic budget which has been shrinking annually due to state cuts for the past few years.
He also fired football coach Pete Richardson after the 2009 season, after a 17-year run which produced four Black College national titles, replacing him with former Morgan State coach Stump Mitchell, whose club managed just two wins in 2010; and two years ago, he extended the contract of the recently fired men’s basketball coach Rob Spivery, who won a SWAC title in his first season, but whose teams had gone into a severe decline, missing the SWAC Tournament’s field of eight the past two years.
The aforementioned decline in state support has come at a time of dwindling ticket sales for the school’s powerhouse football program, which has endured several subpar seasons since their last conference and national title campaign in 2003, and for a men’s basketball program has had three straight 20-loss seasons after winning 20 games and a SWAC title five years ago.
Those budget cuts also prompted Southern to drop its’ men’s tennis program several years ago, while critical support staff positions have gone unfilled or been eliminated, resulting in an adverse effect on the program.
Among those negative effects have been rules compliance issues that were aggravated when the school’s compliance position went unfilled (until the last two months), leading to incomplete certification reports being submitted to the NCAA, and the loss of scholarships in football and men’s basketball because of the struggles of those programs within the APR academic performance guidelines, which without waivers, could lead to postseason bans and a future loss of athletic certification for the entire athletic department.
Just a few weeks ago, Southern University’s Women’s Basketball team, the regular season conference champions, lost in the SWAC Tournament final and were faced with declining an invitation to the Women’s NIT, due to a depleted travel budget. Only an 11th hour donation from alumni allowed them to make a postseason trip to the NIT.
As the economy worsens, the State of Louisiana is seeking to make more cuts in higher education for the 2011-12 fiscal year, putting some degree programs in jeopardy statewide, along with the New Orleans branch in the Southern University System, causing some to wonder about the future of the institution.
And those same partisans of the Jaguar Nation have to be equally concerned about the direction of their beloved athletic program, whose future is inextricably linked to that of the university.
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