After saying earlier this week that it would be "mandatory from here on out" for all scholarship players to become dues-paying members of the school's booster club at a minimum of $50, Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns coach Billy Napier clarified to ESPN on Friday that players would not be mandated to do so.
"I realize it's become a national story and that a lot of people don't understand what we're trying to do, but we view it more about living life with gratitude and educating our guys in the importance of investing in other people," Napier told ESPN. "That's the kind of program we want to have, and there has been zero resistance from the players."
Napier, a former assistant coach at Alabama who is now in his second season with Louisiana, said in a news conference Wednesday that the Ragin' Cajun Athletic Foundation memberships were "mandatory." The school then issued a statement, suggesting players were simply "strongly encouraged" to join.
On Friday, Napier said the purpose of the program was to create awareness about the considerable undertaking of raising scholarship money for student-athletes.
He said he discussed the idea with his athletic director and that the players understand that the minimal-level donation of $50 is not required to be a part of the football team. He said the school matches whatever the players want to donate, and that he and every member of his coaching staff has also joined the booster club.
"If they can't afford to come up with $50 or don't want to join for any reason, they know they can come to me privately and there's not a problem," Napier told ESPN on Friday. "I get that people independent of football and independent of our program might not agree with it, and that's fine. We don't look at it as a negative at all, what we're trying to do here, which is helping our kids understand the need to serve others, and hopefully down the road, they will be able to do the same."
The urging to pay to join the club comes at a time when schools are under increased scrutiny about the current amateur model in which players cannot be compensated with cash or other outside benefits in return for their services, name or likeness. Several members of the U.S. Congress have voiced concerns about the amateur model and pushed for reforms, including paying players as employees.
Napier said walk-on T.J. Wisham was just recently placed on scholarship, and the players on the team took pride in playing a small part in helping make that possible.
"You're talking about four dollars and a quarter a month [to be a minimal-level donor], and our players have been great about what that can do to help our program and give back," Napier said. "They appreciate what others have done for them and the way this community has invested in them. They understand that we're not Alabama and don't get millions of dollars every year in TV contract money.
"Again, the initiative here was to create awareness about how much goes into raising $10.2 million a year for scholarships for student-athletes, and I think we've been able to do that."
Later Friday afternoon, Napier compared a player on scholarship to getting the equivalent of "about $45,000 cash" when asked by ESPN if he understood why criticism might exist since student-athletes don't get paid a salary.
"I think that the people that are commenting in that regard don't quite understand that these guys are going to get -- over a four-year career; let's say they live two years on campus two years off campus -- they are going to get on average, it's going to be about $45,000 cash. ... So this scenario that people are drawing up where there's going to be players that can't come up with $4.25 a month ... that's not realistic."
Louisiana's policy appears to be unique within college football, with several other head coaches telling ESPN they were not aware of any similar policies at other schools.
"There will probably be some good and bad to come out of all the publicity this has received, but it's been a home run here," Napier said.
ESPN's David M. Hale contributed to this report.