Did LSU football tip an election?
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Okay. Enough mushy navel-gazing. Let’s get to the #news.
Did LSU football swing a statewide election?
If you don’t live in Louisiana, or you aren’t a diehard politico, you might have missed the news over the weekend that Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards won re-election. It was a close race, and seeing as Edwards is a Democrat and Louisiana is, well, not California, that Edwards won again is certainly notable.
And after the votes were counted and the dust settled, you might have seen this #take across your timelines:
The final margin is likely to be very close. A Dem strategist I just spoke with credits LSU's win vs. Alabama for voters' satisfaction w/ direction of state & Edwards's razor-thin victory. #LAGOV
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict)
Nov 17, 2019
I saw a few political reporter types express some real skepticism about this, but anybody who has spent more than 48 hours in Louisiana or follows college football at all was like well…actually yeah, that sounds about right.
I actually have a political science degree, and worked in politics a few careers ago. I vaguely remembered reading about a connection between local sports team success and local political success in other countries, and I certainly remembered analysts pointing to Brazil’s 7-1 humiliation in their World Cup as an event that helped hobble Dilma Rousseff’s regime. So this theory passed my sniff test. But is it actually true?
One paper back in 2012 suggested that was certainly possible. Via Sports on Earth:
Strange but true: According to researchers Andrew Healy, Cecilia Mo and Neil Malhotra, victories by college football teams within a 10-day period prior to Election Day raise the local vote share for incumbent politicians -- governors, senatorsandpresidents -- by 1.6 percentage points, with the effect being larger for surprise victories and in areas where fan support is particularly strong (2.3 to 2.5 points).
In other words, when the home team wins, so does the sitting president.
However, Extra Points reader Dr.Patti Jones pointed out another paper that calls this study into question. From 2015:
We detect no effect of college football games on elections when we leverage situations where multiple elections take place in the same county and year but the incumbent parties differ. We find that the estimated effect is greater in counties that are less interested in college football, just as great even when the incumbent does not run for reelection, and just as great in counties outside the home county of the team. Lastly, we find no effect of National Football League (NFL) games on elections, despite the greater popularity of the NFL over college football. If college football games indeed influence elections, we think it would be virtually impossible to explain all of these results. Rather, we conclude that there is no meaningful effect of college football games on elections, and a false-positive result arose simply by chance.
I imagine there is even more social science research out there on this, and I’m going to try and dig around it a little more over the next few days, because this is the perfect confluence of stuff I love nerding out over, but it does speak to a challenge in political science research. There are a lot of dang variables, and every election is different in a lot of ways.
In this specific race, the connection between Gov. Edwards and LSU football isn’t superficial. Edwards is a big time LSU fan, and personal friends with LSU head coach Ed Orgeron. Over at Sports Illustrated, Ross Dellenger went deep on the friendship between the two men, and the long, unusually deep ties between LSU football and the statehouse.
Let us briefly consider, for example, how the two men met. I only lived in Louisiana for about a year, so I can’t possibly consider myself an expert, but I suspect there are not many more Louisiana ways for this to happen. Via SI:
Imagine it for just a second: the LSU football coach on an airboat speeding in the dark of night toward a floating house, where inside waiting for him is the governor of Louisiana. Well, that’s exactly how it happened. Edwards and Orgeron met for the first time in January 2017 at a duck camp accessible only by boat and located in Orgeron’s home parish of Lafourche. “We hit it off from there,” Edwards says.
THEY TOOK AN AIRBOAT.
Beyond the deep color that Dellenger provides that I think makes it clear that the passion Edwards has for LSU football, while politically expedient for sure, is not contrived, there’s also a reminder that in Louisiana, the Governor plays a real and tangible role in the university.
There is politics at play here on both sides. The governor hand picks members of a powerful decision-making board at LSU that ultimately hires—and fires—the university’s top leaders, including the president, the athletic director and, of course, the football coach. Board members terms are staggered. If he wins re-election, Edwards will at some point in his second term have selected a majority of the board. “That’s the big question,” says Robert Mann, a political historian and communications professor at LSU since 2006. “Let’s hope it never happens, but it would be interesting to see if LSU fell on hard times, if people would start pressuring Edwards to do something about it or if Edwards would feel responsible.
That isn’t the case in every state or at every state university, but it is a very interesting dynamic, especially since Orgeron’s meteoric rise this season wasn’t exactly predicted in the industry. Could a personal friendship between politician and football coach be a problem should things go upside down for the Oregeron administration? Or on the flipside, would it make it even easier for LSU football, athletics, or even the university, to get stuff from the state?
On some level, I don’t think this dynamic is totally uncommon. State universities and college football are the biggest, most important institution in several states, institutions that transcend the urban/rural divide, or political partisanship. It would make sense for somebody seeking statewide election to wrap themselves up in that institution, or even to get involved. College football history is rife with political involvement. That’s why Baylor is in the Big 12, after all. More recently, conference realignment led to a public feud between Mitch McConnell and Joe Manchin. This stuff happens.
But I suspect the ties between football and politics are even more tight in Louisiana, the state that gave us Huey Long. For a very quick primer, check out the “Huey Long incident” section of the 1934 LSU team. Could you imagine a contemporary political trying a stunt like this? I think I could.
I’m not sure if there’s a research consensus that shows a relationship between college football success and any particular outcome. But in certain parts of the country, particularly in Texas, the Deep South and parts of the Midwest, I can absolutely see another situation like we saw in this race happening again. It’s part of what makes the Alabama US Senate race so interesting to me, seeing as former Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville somehow needs to convince a lot of Alabama fans to vote for him.
Anyways, it’s just more proof that this has really been a charmed season for LSU. They’re picking up all kinds of big wins lately.
It’s extension and bonus season!
This part of the season is commonly associated with coach firings, and even though we’ve only had three so far (Rutgers, Florida State and Arkansas), more are assuredly coming. But this is also the time of year when some coaches get extensions, and lots and lots and lots of them get bonuses.
The Conversation has an interesting look at the history of coach contracts and bonuses. I don’t think I fully appreciated how far back the concept of the coach bonus went. Via The Conversation:
The first superstar college football coach contract on record to include compensation beyond base salary was signed by the legendary John Heisman – for whom the coveted Heisman Trophy is named – to coach Georgia Tech’s football team in 1904.
Records show that Heisman’s contract added 30 percent of all ticket sales to his annual $2,500, a salary that would have been the equivalent of just under $71,000 in 2018 dollars.
Bear Bryant reportedly had a similar arrangement at Texas A&M. Even today, it isn’t super surprising for a coach, especially at a smaller program, to have a bonus tied to either ticket sales or athletic donations. After all, don’t let the amateurism police fool you, a coach’s job is to win football games…with the assumption built in that winning football games leads to more money coming in.
Now, thanks to big-time TV revenues, salaries for coaches have absolutely exploded (we didn’t have a football coach making $1 million in base salary until 1995! Now, that doesn’t even pay for an elite coordinator), and so have bonuses. Bowl bids, AP Poll appearances, APR benchmarks…if you can measure it, somebody in college football is getting an extra check because of it. A lot of them, especially stuff like APR, don’t seem to be especially justifiable. It will be interesting to see what sorts of changes, if any, happen to coaching contracts in a world where the financial pie has to be shared a teensy bit more with the actual athletes.
As far as coaching extensions go, I saw news on three of them over the weekend.
1) Nebraska, for some reason, announced they were extending Scott Frost. I don’t know if the two-year extension the school tacked on changes Frost’s buyout, but the timing does seem strange. Nebraska looks poised to miss a bowl game for the second consecutive season, and the Cornhuskers are just 8-14 under Frost. Nebraska’s 2020 recruiting class is currently ranked 34th in the 247 Composite rankings, which is roughly where it’s been over the last several years. Nobody is going to hire Frost away, and given his ties to the school and how much the whole state hyped up his presence, I don’t think anybody really believes he’s going to get canned.
Happy Scott Frost day, I guess.
2) This isn’t official, but BYU AD Tom Holmoe’s actions would certainly make one think he’s about to extend BYU head coach Kalani Sitake. Via KSL.com:
Holmoe spoke for a few moments to the players who were still reveling in the win and news of a trip to Aloha. Then he pulled at his dress shirt, flipped it aside, and revealed a royal blue T-shirt with two words (and a hashtag) scrawled across the front of it: Extend Kalani.
Then coach and AD embraced. And the players went wild, as captured on BYU receiver Neil Pau'u's Instagram account.
I intellectually understand the argument for doing this, and for not doing it. Sitake’s total W-L record at BYU isn’t great, (he’s 26-23, with no Top 25 finishes), but this year’s team did beat USC, Tennessee, Boise State and Utah State. They accepted a Hawaii Bowl bid, and given the schedule and their horrible injury luck (I know the meme is that everybody at BYU is 28 with four kids, but this team played a ton of underclassmen), I understand wanting to keep the guy around. Sitake is reportedly well liked by players, fans and folks within the school.
My concern is that BYU hasn’t really had a great offense during Sitake’s administration (they’re 66th in SP+ this season) and those wins over Tennessee and USC were pretty coin-flippy (and seeing as BYU also lost to bad Toledo and USF teams this season, it would appear the coin sometimes flips the other way). BYU’s recruiting is also not great, even by BYU standards. This current class does not have a consensus blue-chip recruit, and sits just 70th in the 247 Composite, and likely to drop before National Signing Day. I know recruiting at BYU is tough, but when you face six P5 teams in 2020, plus three of the best G5 programs…you need depth, and that’s tough to do if you aren’t recruiting it.
The only wrinkle here is that BYU can only hire temple-recommend carrying Latter-Day Saints. There are…not even a dozen of those across the NFL and near the top of college coaching staffs, and BYU can’t afford several of them. Even if you’re not in love with where the team is right now…who are you going to get to replace him? The candidate list would literally be three people. So continuing with the guy you have, even if the results are just okay, does make sense.
3) I also saw that Ohio is discussing an extension with Frank Solich. Via the Athens Post:
At his weekly press conference Friday, Solich, who is in his 15th year as coach of the Bobcats, said he had been in discussions about potentially renewing his contract.
“There have been discussions,“ Solich said. “(The details) will eventually come out, and you can obviously go from there.”
After the interview, Solich stepped back into the room to clarify that he was “feeling good” about the talks.
I was a little surprised by this, seeing as Solich just turned 75. He’s unquestionably been a great coach for Ohio, going 110-81 at a place that has not enjoyed much historical success at all, but nobody would have batted an eye had he decided to retire after this season, and I think it is reasonable to wonder how much longer he can go.
If this job ever opens again, I think it could be a pretty attractive MAC gig, in large part because of the job Solich did in Athens. Demographic shifts in Ohio have pushed more of the state’s prep talent to the Columbus area, and Ohio is the closest FBS program to the city, outside of Ohio State. Athens isn’t for everybody, but it is an objectively fun town, and Ohio is strong enough academically that I think you can sell it in recruiting, but not so selective that you can’t get kids enrolled. I bet somebody like a Tony Alford could do really well there.
It’ll be interesting to see what an extension looks like, or what Ohio’s post-Solich plans are.
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