The Real Heartbreak of LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu Saga

LSU flags

LSU flags (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you ever needed proof that LSU is really just a football team that happens to have an English department, look no further than the response to news that head coach Les Miles booted Tigers’ defensive back Tyrann Mathieu from the team for violating “team policy.”

By the despair (or, perhaps, just overheated discussion) of Tiger fans, you’d have thought LSU had actually lost 10 percent of its faculty in the budget cuts over the past three years; or those budget cuts had forced the school to cancel several foreign language degree programs; or that the most recent budget cuts had forced severe cuts to routine campus maintenance; or that class sizes had grown inordinately high; or that courses had been eliminated; or that the situation this year was so dire and pitiful that the Athletic Department had to contribute $5.5 million to forestall the complete elimination of whole colleges.

You’d hear profound outrage if any of that actually happened, right?

Well, actually, all of the above has happened. You just may not have heard about it because, of course, it doesn’t rise to the same level importance as the plight of a cocky defensive back who will soon be making millions in the NFL.

LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva called the situation “absolutely heartbreaking.”

No, he wasn’t talking about the misplaced fan reaction, and certainly not the negative impact of the cuts imposed on LSU by Gov. Bobby Jindal and the legislature.

He was, of course, talking about the Mathieu situation. And, while he clearly overstates its significance, we should cut Alleva a bit of slack. After all, were it not for the $5.5 million check he cut for LSU’s main campus, there might not be an LSU English Department in the new school year.

In his column in the Baton Rouge Advocate, sportswriter Scott Rabalais agrees with Alleva that the Mathieu situation is “heartbreaking.”

“There is no better word for it,” Rabalais writes.

Really? “No better word’?

So, with all due respect to Rabalais — and with gratitude to Alleva’s for his $5.5 million — gentlemen, this is not a “heartbreaking” situation. It’s a disappointment, lamentable, regrettable, distressing.

It is unfortunate, for LSU football and for Matthieu. Perhaps, it is best described as an outcome not terribly surprising, given what we already knew about Matthieu and his maturity level. (Trust me on this; I follow him on Twitter.)

Matthieu will probably soon be playing football for some other lesser university program and, again, well on his way to the NFL. So, please, spare me all the tears for LSU football under the guise of deep care for Matthieu’s well-being. If we truly cared about young men like Matthieu, we wouldn’t build multi-million-dollar sports empires and thrust them into the middle of them at the tender age of 18.

By contrast, “heartbreaking” are the dramatic cuts in state support for LSU and the drastic rise in LSU’s tuition that still doesn’t make up for what’s been cut.

Heartbreaking is the tuition tax increase that Jindal and Co. have forced upon LSU that will make a college degree just a little more difficult, and sometimes impossible, for thousands of sons and daughters of hardworking Louisiana parents. (And don’t make the mistake of believing that all LSU students receive a full ride because of TOPS; many don’t.)

Heartbreaking is the lost income and opportunity for a young person who cannot afford a college education.

Heartbreaking are the misplaced priorities that result in greater outrage about the foibles of a football player and not the slow, steady destruction of a once-fine institution of higher learning.

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23 Responses to The Real Heartbreak of LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu Saga

  1. George Munson says:

    Hello Mr. Mann,
    I just wanted to let you know that I do agree that the Mathieu saga is very overstated. However, you should also know that the rest of your article is nearly as overblown as the situation itself. There is outrage over the budget cuts, our last Student Government president bombarded Governor Jindal with letters (even having one put in a newspaper in the state he was stumping in) until he agreed to meet with him. Our student body held a rally at the state capital. And here on campus we aren’t outraged by Mathieu’s dismissal (there’s only on t by the way), we are saddened by the fact that a young man couldn’t get his life straight and threw away his future and his team. We are outraged that we are getting cuts left and right. There is heartbreak in both situations, please don’t understate the saddness incurred by Mathieu’s fall from grace, true, it is one man who should still have a bright future, but it has to be noted that it is sad nonetheless. Additionally, I just wanted to inform you that there are thousands of students still coming to LSU from difficult situations because of a scholarship program Louisiana has called TOPS. With as low as a 2.5 high school GPA a student gets a boost to come to any state school. The budget cuts have hit LSU so hard because Jindal is striving to insure “that the thousands of sons and daughters of hardworking Louisiana parents” still have an opportunity to get that college degree. The message is right, but I think you have oversimplified a complex situation.
    All the best,
    George Munson

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    • Robert Mann says:

      I think if you’ll look closely, you’ll find that thousands of LSU students are not receiving TOPS. Some lost it and have managed to stay in college, nonetheless, paying their way, struggling to get that degree. Others are out of state students. In any event, raising tuition does have consequences for students. And as an LSU faculty member, I must take issue with the notion that students are really engaged on this issue. Some are; the vast majority are not. I talk to legislators. They say they rarely hear from students, staff or faculty about this issue. In any event, thanks for the comment.

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      • Robert Mann says:

        Please read my comments on Jindal in other posts on this blog. I’m very, very hard on him. And I’m not attacking LSU athletics (just Alleva’s unfortunate word choice). Rather, I’m mostly troubled by those outside the university (football fans) who are much more concerned about the fortunes of LSU football than LSU academics. As I said, we seem to be mostly a football program that has an English department. Thanks for reading and for the comment.

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      • Miug says:

        I find it hard to sympathize with people who lose their TOPS. Yes, there may be the occasional tale in which someone endured hardship and had to drop out of school for a semester or two and thus lost their TOPS, however, for the most part a lot of students lose their TOPS from being lackadaisical towards their educations. A 2.5 GPA is not hard to maintain at all. In my experience a lot of students do not treat school as a job, but rather treat it as a transformation state between childhood and adulthood.

        Again, I recognize that this is not the case for everyone, but it is certainly the case for many.

        Also, I find it rather odd that you’re criticizing a man’s sadness towards someone falling out of the program he directs… He has every right to feel heartbroken by losing a player, whether or not the player deserves it. In addition, the bloke dropped millions of dollars and you are going to bloody criticize his sadness?

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    • Mitchell says:

      Hey, George: Before you point out someone else’s spelling, learn how to spell “sadness”. Just saying!

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  2. Joe Giudice says:

    I’m not sure you should be criticizing others’ writing prowess (even if only as a metaphor) when you yourself failed to noticed that you spell Mathieu’s name two different ways within this one blog entry. Those in glass houses, Mr. Mann.

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    • Robert Mann says:

      Thanks for pointing out the errors. I always welcome editing help and other suggestions from my readers, since I’m a one-man operation. That said, I don’t believe I criticized anyone’s spelling. I don’t throw stones at folks’ inadvertent errors. It was word choice — in fact, embracing that term — not its spelling, that is the issue here. Thanks again for the comment.

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  3. bgrober1 says:

    Good article. An obsession with sports has eclipsed the academic mission of far too many universities in this country. LSU is certainly one of them.

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  4. Thomas says:

    The REAL sad thing about mr mann’s article is his pathetic attempt in attacking the LSU Football program. A program that provides operating funds for all other areas of intercollegiate athletics at LSU, brings national attention to our university and is one of the very few!!!! athletic departments that is self sustaining and gives back to the university(4 million this past yr). He has taken advantage of a sad situation with Tyrann Mathieu and the national spot light it has garnered to further an agenda which in all actuality should be directed to Bobby Jindal and the state legislature.

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  5. Nathan W. says:

    As an out-of-state student and an outsider to Louisiana politics, I am very troubled by the rise of tuition. Why is the state legislature not providing more financial support for the state’s flagship institution? On another note, sports are what they are here in America. I was watching the Olympics yesterday and a “Breaking News” story scrolled across the bottom of the screen, saying that the Honey Badger had been kicked off the team. I agree with you! Is that news so important that they have to interrupt the Olympics?? Yesterday I saw more status updates on Facebook about Mathieu than anything else (and there’s -again- the Olympics, a presidential race, etc.). Honestly, it’s nice to see community infused with so much school spirit, but it’s unsettling to see where people’s priorities lie.

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    • Carolyn D says:

      To Mr. Mann & Nathan: What more can we expect when the entire educational system in La. is directed first and foremost toward sports? It tells you something when history, civics and other social studies can only be taught by the coaches, taking backseat to the needs to get the teams ready for the next game!! Our country is at the most politically polarized state ever seen by this generation and the next one doesn’t even know basic american history or their rights and duties as citizens. We are seeing a drastic loss of american born doctors while students of law – if there are enough – are having such biased examples presented to them by a supreme court that is so partisan as to render verdicts based on their party lines instead of the constitution it is supposed to be upholding. Instead, social studies classes are being used as “nap times” and study times for other classes whose teachers give a darn, while “Coach” plugs in a DVD as the day’s lesson, while he gets going on game plans!!!

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  6. Amanda says:

    Cuts to educational programs are happening across the nation. It is a function of the failing economy, and perhaps of a collegate system that has grown beyond what is sustainable. The falling housing prices are also a contributor to this complex situation. Home appraisals for taxation are increasing devalued and are bringing in fewer tax dollars and it is still taxpayers in the state of Louisiana, or whatever state the college is in, that pays the MAJORITY of the cost of the education for the students. Major educatuional reform needs to occur in this counrty at all levels. That said, it is “heartbreaking” that Tyrann couldn’t follow the rules and behave in a manner consistant with the rules. Why heartbreaking? Because it is the athletic programs that bring attention to the University, and with it, money. Tyrann Mathieu has become known nationally and that brings the spotlight to LSU. What sort of cuts would LSU have had to make if not for the $5.5 million given to them?

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    • Kevin M says:

      Amanda,

      With respect, while your overall picture may be true, generally, on a national level, it has very little to do with Louisiana and LSU. For instance, Louisiana does not levy a state property tax, so the falling price of homes has zero impact on the state budget, which funds LSU. Further, it’s simply NOT true that the majority of the cost of operating LSU is provided by the state; in fact, state general appropriations are well under half, and approaching one-quarter, of LSU’s funding. It IS true that quite a few students have their tuition – not, mind you, fees – covered by TOPS, but as Mann points out, thousands of undergraduates are not on TOPS and no graduate students are.

      What’s “heartbreaking” is that there are so many idiots in this state who think it’s more important to give money to LSU’s athletic department instead of supporting the academic mission of the university. What’s “heartbreaking” is the amount of media attention given to a bunch of privileged (and in many cases, such as “Honey Bader’s” situation, spoiled and coddled) pseudo-students who chase a ball up and down a field and generate hundreds of millions from fans who won’t give one dime directly to the actual *university* these kids are nominally attending – when world-class scientific research is going on just a few thousand yards from the stadium.

      I’m reminded of the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav, when the LSU Museum of Natural Sciences started up a generator to keep the freezer with its genetic tissue samples collection going – LSU has the foremost, bar none, collection of such material in the world and it was in danger of being destroyed by thawing out. Some idiots from LSU’s physical plant decided the generator would be more useful running an air conditioner at some administrator’s private home and unplugged it from the museum and carted it off. It was only by a stroke of luck that the museum staff discovered the loss of the generator and tracked it down quickly, or a literally priceless collection of scientific material would have been destroyed (to his credit, the administrator was happy to return the generator when he found out where the physical plant had gotten it). That’s typical of how actual academic work is respected by anyone outside the academic community.

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  7. jim smith says:

    it’s a typical mediocre state school. if you don’t believe me, check the rankings. of course its student body (as a whole) is more passionate about their sports than their education. education is not a priority among the voting public, and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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  8. Erikj says:

    How bout this. Can someone tell me why we pay a person six to seven figures at LSU? When I found out how much money the staff at LSU is paid, I understood why LSU has so many budget cuts coming its way. How about cutting pay down A LOT and that should bring the cost for the students down. Some positions are being paid over 200K, I understand that an entitlement is going strong there but really I would force retire everyone who makes over 100K and combine a few positions. Since I have seen most of these people at the Country Club playing golf more than I have seen them on campus. I am sure we could combine positions and decrease pay. There will always be a person who loves to teach more than entitlement money and those or normally the better professors. Don’t get me wrong I love our team as much as anyone else. However, I would not pay over 3 Million plus salary to anyone in a university setting. Think about how many students could go to LSU at reduces rates if most of the money would go back to the school instead to others. Think about how much money the school could save. But nooo!!!!, get us in the black and the higher ups believe they should get more bonuses….

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    • James says:

      Those faculty making six figures are typically paid by an endowment. Faculty paid by the state make very little money and rely on federal grants for funding.

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      • Kevin M says:

        Not only that, James, but the only people making 7 figures are athletic people like coaches. Six figures? Yes, there are a few. Some are medical doctors associated with the teaching programs at the state hospitals (which are run by LSU). Some are administrators – and yes, some of those should be cut. But it’s NOT rank-and-file faculty. It just isn’t.

        Nonetheless, let’s say you get rid of $10 million of salaries of administrators. How many full scholarships would that fund? Less than 1,500. And that’s assuming you could find that much in savings. If you only found, say, $1 million in excess salaries, you’d pay for fewer than 150 students. Doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing, but it’s not that LSU is pouring enormous sums down a rat hole of salaries, either.

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  9. Midnight2 says:

    The majority of LSU fans did not attend LSU. Most are the uneducated population of Louisiana. They live for the weekends of football season. Nothing else matters to them except that next beer, a touchdown, and a championship. Forget the well being of the players and if they receive an education. Just give the uneducated a beer and some football!

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  10. theSteve says:

    If you talk to a sports fan, they will tell you what interests them is sports news. Why would someone who operates a political blog write on his political blog a comment about why people are more interested in sports than politics? Should someone from St. Jude’s write on a St. Jude’s blog about how Robert Mann is more interested in Louisiana politics than he is over the thousands that die of cancer? To them, budget cuts from a state college would also not be considered “heart breaking,” but most people understand that it is possible to have interests in other things without worrying about why everything is more interested in their areas than your areas. It is not a heartbreak for people to not share the same interests as you. You want to know why their is so much more excitement over the honey badger saga than their is over politics involving the actual educational aspect of the school? It is because the school enrolls around 35,000 students while one single football game packs in over 92,000 paying fans, plus HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of fans watching and listening across the nation. So which “crisis” actually affects more people? The football program has 2 things to worry about: creating a championship team, and harvesting paying fans so they can continue to create this championship team. This is all they get paid to do. All this public upset shows is the program’s success in accomplishing their two areas of focus. The moral of the story is to not be surprised when ESPN talks about sports, or when the leaders of a finely tuned football team are upset when they lose their star player. If you’re not interested in sports, quit watching the Olympics and change the channel to CNN.

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    • Peter says:

      LSU will always first and foremost be a university. Any other functions by the university are a bonus and that includes the athletics program. Robert Mann is not suggesting that sports fans have it wrong for feeling “hear broken” but he questions their priorities in feeling so. Something fundamental that a lot of LSU football fans will never understand is that if LSU tanks in the quality of education, then everything else follows like a domino effect. I love LSU and a lot of my friends bleed purple and gold. But from some of the views expressed in this article, I think some people are bleeding ignorance.
      Good article Rob!

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  11. Chere says:

    Well done. My constant complaint is the lack of outrage at the state of schools in Louisiana (although my son, who attends ULL, visited the State Capitol with other students to protest cuts). When I moved back home from California I was appalled at the state our schools are in. More appalling was Jindal’s remark that “throwing money at our schools hasn’t worked.” I must have missed that one, haven’t seen money thrown at anything education in this state in my 51 years! Education is the answer to everything. It’s time for Louisiana residents to put as much energy into making our schools the best as they do for football.

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  12. Amen, and amen.

    The Tyrann Mathieu saga tells us about the failings of an athletically talented kid and the willingness of Les Miles and the LSU Athletic Department to do the right thing even when it hurts. That’s all.

    The decimation of LSU and the rest of higher education by the state’s politicians — not to mention the total indifference to that by Louisianians — tells us exactly what Louisiana thinks of its children . . . and its future. It also gives us a pretty good idea of exactly where the Gret Stet is headed, both short term and long term.

    I think I’ll stick with my adopted home of Nebraska, where government generally works and people generally give a damn.

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