Brian Kelly calls for ‘balance’ between LSU academics and athletics

Coach’s comments on university priorities in ESPN interview draw scrutiny

By: - September 6, 2023 5:00 am
A football coach walks in front of several football players

LSU coach Brian Kelly during the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Dec. 3, 2022, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

When head football coach Brian Kelly pointed out a difference in priorities between LSU and Notre Dame, where he previously coached, in an ESPN interview, his comments  drew immediate reaction. Now, he says academic excellence is part of what drew him to LSU. 

“The whole landscape there is different than it is here. It just is,” Kelly said in the ESPN interview. “There are priorities at Notre Dame. The architectural building needed to get built first. They ain’t building the architectural building here first. We’re building the athletic training facility first, [and] we’re in the midst of a $22 million addition to our athletic training facility.” 

“It’s something I said we needed, and we went and immediately raised the money,” Kelly added. 

Many believed the coach’s  comments implied academic facilities are not a priority for the university and responded with immediate criticism. 

Some said Kelly was “saying the quiet part out loud” and pointed out that LSU has a huge deferred maintenance problem — to the tune of approximately $650 million in repairs required across campus. Its decrepit library with a famously leaky roof is slated to be destroyed and replaced if the state continues to fund the project.

For years, students and faculty working in neglected buildings have looked at the expansion and upgrades of LSU’s athletic facilities and questioned what the true priorities are at LSU. 

For many, Kelly’s comments finally put those feelings into the open. 

“On one hand, it’s good that Kelly understands the obvious — that Louisiana and LSU care far more about football than academics,” mass communication professor Robert Mann wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “On the other hand, he seems to think it’s marvelous.” 

“Maybe a new architecture school would be good for LSU, they seem to need a new architect of the team,” X user Blaine Bonis posted, referencing LSU’s 45-24 loss Sunday to Florida State. 

Given the opportunity to clarify his comments, Kelly initially maintained he did not mean to imply athletics are or should be favored over academics. 

“My comments was that there was a priority placed on excellence, excellence both in academics and athletics,” Kelly said in an interview with the Illuminator. “That’s what drew me to this job.” 

But when it was pointed out his comments strongly imply LSU does not prioritize academic facilities, Kelly said his words have been mischaracterized. 

“If you look at many of my statements, my reason for coming was my conversation with President Tate and his commitment to academics and excellence … from day one, the allure for me was that commitment to both on and off the field.” 

“It’s a balance,” Kelly said when asked whether the school should prioritize academic facilities. “I want excellence in both academics and in athletics. That balance is going to be, at certain times, you’re going to add to both of those.” 

LSU President William Tate stood by the coach, saying he feels Kelly’s sentiment was misstated. 

“We, along with our legislature and donors, have most certainly prioritized capital projects for LSU academics and our Scholarship First Agenda, leading to a $333 million investment for a new science building, a new library, the Agricultural Innovation Center, and renovations for the School of Veterinary Medicine,” Tate said in a statement to the Illuminator. “We remain steadfast in our dedication to supporting our academic and research endeavors.” 

LSU has been criticized for not including its library in its funding requests to the legislature until last year and for looking to the state for money to build a new basketball arena. While the arena was not included in the university’s official capital outlay request, lawmakers on the committee that handles the budget said LSU administrators and board members requested the funds. 

Earlier this year the legislature approved $1 million in cash for the Pete Maravich Assembly Center to plan improvements and $50 million in the lowest priority category of funding, which would have to be reappropriated in a future year. Lawmakers also gave their OK for another $50 million in fees and self-generated revenue. But because the project is listed as a Tiger Athletic Foundation project, those funds will not be dispersed, as it is illegal for a private entity to receive fees and self-generated revenue.

The legislature also approved $3.2 million in state funding to replace its library, along with nearly $150 million in lowest-priority funds that would need to be reappropriated once the new building is under construction.


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Piper Hutchinson
Piper Hutchinson

Piper Hutchinson is a reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She has covered the Legislature and state government extensively for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor in chief for summer 2022.