Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the red state

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Bread and circuses

Louisiana’s big media are devoting about as much time and space to the fate of Louisiana State University’s head football coach, Les Miles, as they have to the recent gubernatorial election. Reports on the and New Orleans Advocate websites seem as sharply divided about whether Miles will stay or go or be forced to go as are the commenters after the Tigers’ game today against Texas A&M.

Here is some perspective from someone who when to LSU in the early- to mid-1960s.

First, the university has long had a history of the football tail wagging the university dog. The fate of football has always outweighed the solid, if not great, academic programs. But what has always been unsaid is that the football program is really a major in itself — a training program for the professional football world. I recall stories of football players being given “passes” on classes to keep eligibility and I saw it first-hand in a biology lab. A star running back was practically illiterate, but he passed the course — to me a confirmation of the rumors.

Second, I remember clearly how Charlie McClendon was revered and reviled. And those who reviled him didn’t like this three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust running game. Why? In part, because they saw the value of an aerial attack being an effective addition to the offense. And, in part, because it was mostly a boring. What little LSU football I’ve watched this season echoes Miles’ embracing the McClendon version of offense. Further, as good as Leonard Fourette is, once the defenses of a capable opponent key on him, they shut him down. Without a passing game, LSU stalls in the trenches. Alabama and Arkansas proved it.

I doubt any of the commenters have inside information and certainly the conflicting reports from the media make that clear. But consider this: LSU is a training program for the NFL, which thrives on a balance between the passing and running game. In short, it is the failure of Miles’ curriculum for vocational training. Does anyone have any doubt that Exxon/Mobil or Shell gives vocational feedback to the petroleum/petrochemical engineering programs? Why would anyone doubt that the athletic department isn’t getting feedback from NFL people about the training the LSU players are getting in Miles’ program?

I don’t care if Miles stays or goes. I even find the passion in this debate amusing because it really overlooks what goes on at major football schools, especially those public universities supported with tax dollars. Think about this term: Bread and circuses.