Last month, football players at Grambling State University refused to travel to their game against Jackson State, protesting the dangerous conditions at Grambling’s athletics complex.
While we hope the protest will have a positive impact on how schools like Grambling treat their student-athletes, events following the protest reveal issues going beyond college football.
In recent years, Louisiana’s governor and lawmakers have sharply reduced state higher education funding by 48 percent, amounting to $690 million in cuts. Grambling President Frank Pogue said the school’s state financing has been cut by 57 percent.
Mississippi’s Jackson State, whose homecoming game was cancelled as a result of the Grambling protest, is also dealing with state budget cuts. Jackson State can’t afford to lose any revenue from its football program, and it’s planning to litigate against Grambling State and others, ESPN reported last month. Jackson State director of University Communications Eric Stringfellow said Jackson State’s homecoming game often draws at least 20,000 fans and now has to refund thousands of tickets.
While schools in nationally recognized athletics conferences like the Big Ten often face issues balancing athletics and academics, the challenges facing smaller colleges like Grambling and Jackson are unique and even more problematic. Because of state budget cuts, smaller Division I schools are relying on their football programs to help cover costs of academic programs. This strange dynamic, in which the school’s finances greatly depend on the performance of their student-athletes, severely distorts the mission of higher education and can lead to major compromises in academic integrity.
While Grambling State officials should not have allowed the athletics complex to fall into such decay, state lawmakers deserve blame as well, as they have failed in their duty to properly fund public institutions of higher education.