Phenix City mayor Eddie Lowe was all set for LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron to speak at the fourth annual Phenix City’s Mayor’s Annual Education and Charity Ball on Saturday. The NCAA, however, decided that was not going to happen.
Lowe said he received confirmation from Orgeron and LSU in February that the Tigers head coach was willing to be the event’s guest speaker. However, once the LSU compliance office sent the information to the NCAA, the governing body found issue with the plans.
Per Lowe, one word in the event’s title became part of the problem.
“Because we have ‘education’ in our name and we give scholarships, they said he could not go and speak,” Lowe said. “In their view, they think it’s a platform for recruiting, so they will not allow him to do it.”
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After finding out there was an issue in March, Lowe said he and the LSU compliance office went through a series of appeals in an attempt to bring Orgeron as planned. That, according to Lowe, included a representative from LSU going to the NCAA’s headquarters in Indianapolis.
Those attempts, however, proved futile. On May 31, it was determined Orgeron was officially a no go.
“We talked to Coach O last Wednesday,” Lowe said. “He pushed it, we pushed it, but the NCAA had the final say so. We’re not going to do anything to jeopardize his program as far as penalties, because that would have happened. He was apologetic and hated it to the highest. He really wanted to be here, but it did not work out.”
LSU’s athletics communications office declined comment on the situation.
Orgeron was a candidate to speak thanks to Lowe’s ties with Tommie Robinson, who is Lowe’s brother-in-law and LSU’s assistant head coach. Once it became apparent Orgeron was not a sure bet, Lowe and the other event organizers began working on a replacement.
In the end, they found another LSU Tiger to take his place. ESPN analyst Booger McFarland, a former All-American at LSU and a two-time Super Bowl champion, will take the stage instead.
“We were blessed to get Booger,” Lowe said. “We’ve started letting people know, and most of the response was glad we got him.”
The annual ball has had several prominent speakers in the past, but this was the first year that a sports figure is set to speak. Lowe, who played football at UT-Chattanooga and Alabama before embarking on a nine-year career with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, said they don’t plan on using athletes or coaches every year, and that this was a product of using the resources he and the others involved had.
The Phenix City’s Mayor’s Annual Education and Charity Ball was created to assist the youth in the area in their educational pursuits as well as to aid those less fortunate. The ball has successfully topped its fundraising goal on each occasion, and this year sees an objective set at $100,000.
According to Lowe, 60 percent of the money raised goes toward scholarships, 20 percent is devoted to dual enrollment opportunities for students and 10 percent is used to help the less fortunate. The remaining 10 percent is used to deflate some of the costs of the ball for the next year.
This year’s event is at 7 p.m. Saturday at the River Mill Event Centre in Columbus, with tickets set at $85. Lowe said the growing number of attendees constituted the move across the state line and explained how it’s just as much a Columbus event as it is for Phenix City.
“This is one region, because people on both sides see the cause. We’re moving forward as one region, because what’s good for Phenix City is good for Columbus, and what’s good for Columbus is good for Phenix City,” Lowe said. “We’re so grateful to have it over there because there’s a lot of people and businesses that contribute over in Columbus because they see the cause is bigger than any of us.”
Lowe shared his excitement for Saturday but added that this year’s ordeal with Orgeron taught him and the others involved a valuable lesson for the future.
“We all learned from that that when we get the speaker, don’t say who the speaker is right then because things could happen,” Lowe said. “When we got to where (Orgeron) wasn’t going to be able to do it or don’t think he could do, you always worry about credibility. My parents taught me that at the end of the day, the only thing you have is your name.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports