The Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation held a panel with some of the state’s top sports executives in the college and professional ranks at its annual honors luncheon on Friday at the Caesars Superdome.
Political analyst James Carville moderated the panel with Gulf Coast Athletic Conference commissioner Kiki Baker Barnes, Tulane University athletic director Troy Dannen, University of New Orleans athletic director Tim Duncan, New Orleans Saints and Pelicans president Dennis Lauscha and LSU athletic director Scott Woodward.
Carville: I want to start with you, Dr. Barnes. In 1972, we had Title IX, which has changed sports for everybody. Could you just talk a little bit about the effects and the benefits of Title IX and what it’s meant to women athletes?
Baker Barnes: So I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Title IX. In 1975 was when I was born, and the first thing that I wanted to be was a cheerleader. But I had some friends that had the opportunity to participate in sport. I went to try out for the basketball team, and that’s how I got my first introduction to sports. That wouldn’t have been possible if in 1972 they hadn’t passed the legislation. So my entire career, now being a commissioner of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, can definitely be credited to Title IX. One of the things that I’ve seen that I think is really great, we’ve seen so many more women who are now in leadership positions in sport. … We’ve seen so much progress, but there’s still a lot more to go. While we have more girls who are participating in sport, we don’t see that in leadership. The last stats that I saw, I think through the NCAA, showed that 24% of all women in leadership in sports were leading as athletic directors. When you look at that by race and bring that down to Black women, it’s down to 4%. So we’ve got a long way to go, but we going to keep pushing.
Carville: I understand that you all signed a television agreement (with Urban Edge Network)?
Baker Barnes: We did. I’m so excited. We recently signed a $1.2 million media rights deal. Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, for those who may not know, consists of eight HBCUs. We are the only HBCU conference in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and the NAIA was the first to pass NIL legislation. So we’re really excited about what that’s going to do for our schools and how we’re going to be able to level the playing field in that area.
Carville: Tim, you’re looking into adding a football program. Can you just take us through the decision that UNO made to have a football team and just what it entails to start a football team from scratch?
Duncan: Of course. We had an independent group do a feasibility study to understand the cost and the benefits of football. They looked at six urban campuses, commuter campuses, similar to University of New Orleans, in urban centers of San Antonio, Charlotte, Mobile, Norfolk and Atlanta. They noted that after starting football, six years later, the enrollment had grown by 37%. Two decades ago, the University of New Orleans was about 18,000 students (in enrollment). Right now, we stand at about 8,000 students. It took something very dramatic for that drop, that was Hurricane Katrina, the population shift, and finally, it was TOPS. Those things happened in a short amount of time that redistributed population here and negatively affected our university. In order to try to build that (enrollment) back up, we felt we needed something dramatic. Football, marching band, women’s soccer, and women’s golf gives us the opportunity to do that. The best part about it, it won’t take any state funds. Students will be voting to impose a increase on their student fees. So that’s what the vote is. We haven’t started it yet. They’ll vote Nov. 7-8 on whether they want to increase their student fees a net $300 per semester to fund football for us.
Carville: So, what’s the bottom line? What’s the startup cost for a program like that?
Duncan: For an (NCAA Division I) FCS program, of which we’d be, it’s around $6 million per year annually. The student fee would cover about 60% of that. We’d have to go and raise the remaining 40%. That includes all revenue, so ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, donation, things of that nature. So it’s going to take a community to make this happen, but our students will vote to see if they want to change that experience. If so, we’ll have football.
Carville: Troy, so you’re sitting on a 4-1 record now, right? Could Tulane really end up getting to 10-2 or something like that this year?
Duncan: From a historical perspective, we’re 4-1 for the third time since 1980. So the idea of even mentioning the word ‘ten’ is actually a nice place to be, especially coming off of last year when we were 28 days in a hotel in Birmingham during the storm, came out of it with seven ACLs, three shoulder injuries because we weren’t able to lift and train, and it was a lost season. So to be able to come back this year with the same guys and have a much better experience, it’s been a pretty neat thing around campus.
Carville: The trajectory is, college football is going to have 30 teams in a big division, and it’s no secret that Tulane is probably not going to be one of them. What do you see the role of schools like Tulane in the scheme of college athletics going forward?
Dannen: So maybe a little historical perspective. … In the mid-’80s, there was a Supreme Court case, and after that case, the NCAA really became a different organization and it started to do two things. It started to regulate cost containment measures on campuses, and it started to try to regulate a level playing field. In essence, it tried to make LSU and Tulane equal from a rule standpoint when objectively, we really aren’t. For the 40 years since then, we got a 400-page rule book instead of a 40-page rule book. Now the Supreme Court, a year ago, said, “That’s a violation of antitrust law.” So we’re deregulating ourselves. And to your point about being 30, when you deregulate, you basically take roofs off that we’ve been for 40 years trying to put over top of our business. So the roof comes off.
Scott’s budget and my budget don’t look a lot alike, but we’re trying to play for the same trophy. No matter what happens financially, our goal, our motivation, whether it’s an institutional ego or whether it’s history, we’re still going to try to play for the same trophy, but in some ways financially, we’re not playing the same game. Hopefully the experience you can give the kids that participate is the same. The crowds may not be the same. The decision in the mid-’60s for Tulane to leave the SEC looks worse by the day, but it was made at that time. But financially, this can be a different game. And while there may be 30 schools doing something, and 30 schools may have employees playing football for them, but hopefully we’re all playing together in some way, shape, or form. If you compare it to today, we are playing for the same trophy that Scott won two years ago. But would anybody look at us and say there’s anything but 10 teams right now that can win the national football championship? There probably isn’t just because of the way we’re structured today.
Carville: One of my favorite experiences in all of sports anywhere is go to a basketball game at Fogelman (Arena). It’s fun to watch basketball being played in the gym. I mean that’s its roots. That’s why people came up. And you really have a gym experience at Fogelman.
Dannen: And Fogelman’s the eighth-oldest basketball arena in the country of 353 that host Division I basketball. It’s located right in the middle of campus. There’s about 3,200 seats. The greatest advantage we have is that little building, because it is a pit to play in.
Carville: Scott, you’re in the SEC West, the toughest neighborhood in college sports. How is LSU doing in the NIL landscape and can you stay competitive with the Alabamas and Texas, Oklahoma?
Woodward: I think about it all the time. We are resilient in this state, and we’re going to compete with Texas, Texas A&M, and Alabama in the fundraising game, so that’s not a concern. … What Kiki said and obviously what Tim’s doing and what Troy is presently doing with his teams is important to us, because we have to be healthy as a unit and as a body to continue what we’re doing. And we’re going to talk about it, too, I’m sure, with the Saints of how important our feeder system is and our individuals are because we’re about a $1 billion-a-year subsidy to the NFL as a feeder system. And that he needs us healthy, just like Dennis needs us healthy, just like I need everyone else healthy and it needs to be in that space.
But we’re going to be just fine, James, competing with the best. And I am excited about the NIL space because we’re finally being able to do something good for our student athletes.
Carville: How are you feeling about the Tennessee game tomorrow? Do you think we’re going to be ready to play at 11 o’clock in the morning?
Woodward: Yeah, we are. And we can’t play like we did against Auburn and Mississippi State, even though we got victories. We’re going to have to play for the whole game. And the offense is going to have to have a sense of urgency and a sense of hey, getting it done. And if we do and we execute like we have this week, I expect good results.
Carville: Dennis, you wear two hats as the president of the Saints and the Pelicans. Can you speak to the excitement about the Pelicans in New Orleans right now?
Lauscha: My first day of working, I was at an accounting firm and I asked the head accountant, “Give me some advice on being successful.” He said, “Hey look, there’s going to be ups and there’s going to be downs, and you just got to stay even.” And my goodness, it was hard to stay even last season back in March. But we had all the ingredients of a really good basketball team. We had talented players. We had guys who really cared about their teammates. For the folks that went to the game or watching the game, if you’d watched the intro, just these people really cared for each other. You saw the momentum and it kept on building, it kept on building, and finally it broke through. … And it came and I’ll tell you this, you got to be glad you bought your tickets. Thanks to (vice president of ticket sales) Mike Stanfield and the staff, we have the highest season-ticket base that this club has ever had, certainly since we bought it or even since it came to New Orleans now. So everyone is really excited about the Pelicans, and obviously we hope to deliver it for the city.