In a one-on-one Independent Weekly interview with new UL Lafayette President E. Joseph Savoie, the UL leader sounds like he’s gearing up for a major fundraising campaign for the university — one that will also put a more prominent focus on UL athletics. Here’s the question I posed to Savoie, and his response:
In the institutional review conducted before Dr. Authement stepped down, there’s some strong language about the university’s athletics. It notes, “We recommend that the next President reexamine ULL’s intercollegiate athletics programs and ask pointed questions about their long-term revenue sources and expenditures, ULL’s conference affiliation, and especially the institution’s competitive level in football.”
But again, it’s the context. If you’re trying to protect your core, that’s an add-on. You want it out there, and people want you to be as high-level as you can, but if you have to choose ... and that’s what happened. So I think I Dr. Authement supported athletics as best as he could.
Athletics is an important component of a university. In many ways, it’s like the front porch of the university: a lot of people come and visit you who wouldn’t come for any other reason. You can change your community’s enthusiasm, community pride. Look at the women’s softball team. The whole town was rooting for the softball team, many of whom have never been to a softball game, but they were rooting for those girls, and it’s a way for them to connect to the university and support the university. In modern-day major athletics, because of all the media attention, you get exposure around the country that no one would even know you existed without that exposure. So when you’re out trying to recruit faculty or students or trying to connect with some corporation that you’re trying to draw to the state, it gives them some familiarity. Just this past week, a state senator from South Carolina congratulated me, and he said, “I’m familiar with the school; y’all came up here and beat us in the NCAA regionals two years ago.” So he knew it was legitimate and existed, because we beat his school and we must be pretty good. He didn’t know anything else about us, but his impression was we must be a pretty good place.
I think the general consensus in the community is they want us to compete at the highest levels. My opinion of that is if we’re going to be there, we need to be competitive. Which means that we have to win games, that our facilities have to be comparable to those that we compete against, and that we would be the upper echelon. We have to be comparable in our conference if that’s where we choose to be. So I’ve been talking with [Athletic Director] David Walker and some of our biggest sports supporters, and we’re going to do everything that we can do to have a chance to have a successful program that people can be proud of and engaged with and support. Now that will be dependent upon the support. The other hat that I just took off, I put restrictions on the state funds that can be used to support athletics, and I still believe that. It can’t just be university funds; it has to be private funds to supplement that. So we’ll do whatever we can on the university side, but we’re going to need support. So I think we have to be successful and package where we want to go, what it’s going to cost, and what it’s going to take to get us there to try and generate support.
The entire interview is this week's Independent cover story.