Wednesday night, LSU announced it would be imposing a one-year bowl ban, in part because of Beckham’s actions and in part because of other violations committed by a program booster. The Tigers, who are just 3-5 with two games remaining, would have been eligible for a bowl game even with a losing record after the NCAA waived that requirement for this season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I respect the university’s decision to proactively address NCAA issues from the past,” Tigers Coach Ed Orgeron said in a statement. “I share the disappointment of our student-athletes who will not be able to compete this season in a bowl game. I am especially proud of our players’ dedication to the program during these unprecedented times in our country. Their pride in LSU will be the driving force as we continue to build a championship program. Geaux Tigers.”
Beckham’s cash handout — LSU initially claimed it was fake money before Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow revealed it was real — was the first in a series of events that pointed to a down year for the traditionally strong SEC program. Burrow had exhausted his eligibility, and his favorite target — wideout Justin Jefferson — left early for the NFL (the latter likely would have been ineligible anyway after publicly receiving cash from Beckham). In all, the Tigers returned only five starters from their championship team, with 14 players getting selected in the NFL draft and others deciding to opt out of the season because of the pandemic.
There were other departures. Joe Brady, the wunderkind architect of LSU’s 2019 offense, left to become Carolina Panthers’ offensive coordinator in mid-January, the same day Baylor hired Tigers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to become its new head coach.
LSU began its pandemic-delayed season on Sept. 26 with a jarring 44-34 loss to Mississippi State, a team that has since won only one game. The Tigers’ three wins have come over Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Arkansas; the first two teams on that list have a combined two victories, and both have fired their coaches. Most recently, LSU suffered a 55-17 humiliation at home against top-ranked Alabama, a blowout that was all but predicted by the 30-point spread. Next up is a game Saturday at No. 6 Florida, a team that still has designs on a CFP berth. The Gators are 23.5-point favorites.
The Tigers began the season ranked sixth in the Associated Press poll; by early October, they were out of the top 25, becoming the first defending national champion to fall out of the rankings — or even fall out of the top 10 — since Auburn in 2011. The last national champion to finish with a losing record was 3-7 Michigan State in 1967 (though the Spartans’ 1966 title was disputed in the pre-playoff era). The last defending AP national champion to finish with a losing record was 3-6 Ohio State in 1943, a season in which rosters were decimated by World War II call-ups and many teams did not play at all.
LSU already had self-imposed other sanctions in an attempt to ward off future NCAA punishment, announcing in October it was eliminating eight football scholarships over a two-year period and reducing recruiting visits, evaluations and communication. It also banned Beckham from its football program for two years.
The more egregious NCAA violation, however, involved an LSU booster named John Paul Funes, whom the school determined paid the father of former offensive lineman Vadal Alexander $180,000 in money Funes embezzled from Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge. The payments took place from 2012 to 2017 and involved a “no-show” job taken by Alexander’s father. Funes pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering in June 2019 over a scam in which he admitted to stealing gift cards meant for cancer patients, flying family and friends to LSU and New Orleans Saints football games on charter flights labeled as “outbound patient transports,” and sending money to people who did little to no work for the Our Lady of the Lake Foundation over a seven-year period, beginning in 2012.
A federal judge sentenced Funes to 33 months in prison over the scheme, and he began his sentence last December.