As a graduate of a Louisiana high school and two state universities, the current stories about the athletics program at the state’s flagship Large State University (LSU) are quite troubling to me and thousands of other Tiger fans in many ways.
Another part of me is glad that some much-needed sunlight is finally shining on some very ugly open wounds.
For those who haven’t been following the past week’s sports news, an investigation was authorized last fall following a major newspaper’s report about misconduct involving a few former LSU football players. The digging has recently revealed a heretofore undiscovered a bigger stain on the university’s athletics program.
Several years before he was fired in September, 2016 for being a stubborn leader with a quickly fading on-field record, former LSU head football coach Les Miles (whose attorney still denies any wrongdoing by his client) was implicated in a number of incidents. He purportedly utilized his powerful position (the highest paid state employee in Louisiana) to provide “help” to several college co-eds working as interns in the athletics department. Most of those female students didn’t want as much attention as the former football coach was apparently seeking to provide.
This recently uncovered report about the former football coach had been neatly tucked away in the off-campus legal offices of LSU’s outside legal counsel. Due to “security” (wink, wink) reasons, not a single copy of the 2013 Les Miles settlement report was kept on the school’s campus as investigators had been searching for facts regarding a more recent story (2020) about a few misbehaving college football players at LSU.
If those two events in the football program weren’t bad enough, the LSU men’s basketball program (which has enjoyed a very good season and will likely qualify for the NCAA March Madness tournament field) remains under scrutiny, too. Last August, the LSU basketball program was reportedly placed under an investigation into several alleged recruiting violations by current basketball coach Will Wade. In 2019, it was revealed that Coach Wade was overheard (via an FBI wiretap) offering a prospective recruit more than simply a scholarship to play hoops for the Tigers.
What should we make of all this mess in Baton Rouge?
First, it’s important to start with the Les Miles saga. Les (once known affectionately as “The Mad Hatter” due to his oversized cap) came to LSU after a successful tenure as head coach at Oklahoma State University. In 2005, Miles was asked to fill the large shoes of former LSU head coach, Nick Saban. Saban left LSU to try his hand in coaching the NFL Miami Dolphins. Unfortunately for LSU football fans, Nick Saban left Miami after two seasons and returned to coaching college football at the University of Alabama.
While in Stillwater with Okie State, we were reminded this past week that Les Miles had been actively involved in the school’s “hostess” program in addition to coaching football. A group of lovely OSU female hostesses help escort potential football players and their families around the university campus during fall football weekends in Stillwater. Though the “hostess” program had been in place for many years before Les Miles arrived, it re-surfaced this week that that Coach Miles might have been more enthusiastically involved in selecting the young ladies for the program than your average head football coach.
In a report originally released back in 2013, former Cowboys’ coach Les Miles took great interest in the screening process for the school’s “Orange Pride” hostess program. Below are comments attributed to Shayla Simpson, coordinator for the Orange Pride from February 2003 until March 2004:
“Then [Miles] would do an interview,” Simpson said. “So [the hostess] really got to meet him, know what his game plan kind of was, talk about what his expectations were. … It was very important to [Miles]. He knew, yes, we all knew that the beauty helped. I’m not going to lie about that part. It’s a picture. It’s no different than having a pretty campus. It’s no different than having a really big football field. It’s part of the whole package, [but] you couldn’t be pretty and an idiot and call it good. You had to really understand the game because you couldn’t sound like an idiot when you talked to recruits.”
Fast forward to this week’s discovery about Les Miles’ personal involvement with a similar program at LSU years later.
Coach Miles once again became personally involved with the selection and hiring of female student interns for his version of the same program at LSU. According to another report, Les Miles “made it clear that he wanted these employees to have a certain ‘look’ (attractive, blond, fit).”
If you didn’t happen to fit the football coach’s desired look, those female employees were either reassigned or fired, according to the report.
Over the period of a few years, Les Miles was alleged to have texted female student workers via his private (non-University) cell phone. Among other allegations, the coach reportedly drove a few females alone in his own vehicle (with the allegation that the Coach asked to take her to his condo). He also kissed at least one other student on one or more occasions.
Believe it or not, the much maligned Athletics Director at LSU at the time (Joe Alleva) recommended to a supervisory board that the coach should be fired for his actions in 2013. Under Les Miles, though, the LSU football team had won the school’s third national championship in 2007 and played in (and lost) in one other championship appearance against Nick Saban’s Alabama team in 2011.
Translated – the LSU football team was successful on the field and at the bank. The team was filling Tiger Stadium’s 102,000 seats during the fall and contributed about 75% of the LSU athletics revenue to financially support most of the other programs for men and women on campus.
As you likely surmised, Coach Les Miles wasn’t fired at the time.
This 2013 confidential settlement agreement (which was finally unearthed last week during off-campus discovery at the law offices of the LSU outside counsel) required Les Miles to participate in some professional counseling, and he was also banned from being alone with female students.
Anyone on the LSU campus with possible knowledge of the document was also bound by the agreement’s nondisclosure requirement!
It’s the legal equivalent of “See no evil, speak no evil”.
By keeping silent about those events and leaving the then-popular head football coach on the job, the net effect for the LSU athletics department was a continuation of “business as usual”.
Though the on-field performance of Les Miles’ football teams diminished and resulted in his dismissal as head football coach in September, 2016, the school continued to pay more than $100,000 per month to the former coach as part of his contractual agreement with LSU. When Miles was named the head football coach at Kansas two years after leaving LSU, Miles’ attorneys orchestrated a buy-out of the remaining money owed by LSU under his prior contract.
Give Les Miles credit for one thing. He hired some sharp attorneys who were able to do a great job of financially benefiting their client.
More recently at LSU, a couple of former LSU football players were subjects of the latest round of possible cover-ups of sexual misconduct and violence against women at the school. A report on those findings was also released last week.
It is absolutely unfair to blame the entire football team (more than 100 players) for the failings of a few. On the other hand, the documentation revealed that the LSU athletics department is staffed by a number of well-paid management whose primary function appears to be geared to providing adult baby-sitting for student athletes and, if needed, legal services.
It is impossible to police all of the shenanigans which the school’s student-athletes get into. However, LSU has done a very effective job of covering up a variety of “issues” in the past which just seem to keep being deposited into the athletic department’s litter box, too.
Again, let’s stipulate that most major college football and basketball powers around the country also spend a lot of money on a similar set-up. Minimize the damage, document to comply with the rules, and provide legal services to cover-up or buy-out a number of problems.
The school’s stated goal is to comply with all NCAA guidelines.
The reality, though, is that many universities have also created an organizational hierarchy which makes getting to the truth about the misbehaviors of student athletes and the coaching staff quite difficult. Plus, a good legal staff (both on-campus and, if needed, outside counsel) also helps keep the school’s reputation from being sullied, too.
The ugly truth, though, is that the cash cow of college football and, to a lesser extent, basketball programs continues to mask the mistakes being made in recruiting talented athletes who may be unprepared and unfit to attend college classes.
As long as millions of dollars in profits generated by university athletics programs keep rolling in, it appears to be cheaper for the school to attempt to “contain” any internal problems and keep their dirty laundry out of the headlines as much as possible.
Unless the NCAA brings down the hammer on LSU’s athletics department (which is doubtful), the school will say the right things, reorganize the athletics department once again, and proclaim a newfound intent to better monitor its student athletes’ behavior.
Meanwhile, it’s only a matter of time before similar issues arise involving a misbehaving student athlete again. This time, though, an even more convoluted trail will await future victims to navigate in their effort to pursue justice.
If a collegiate athletics program didn’t generate enough cash, you can almost guarantee that a university would likely do away with all of the hassles associated with it.