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June 20, 2014

LSU athletics needs a spark

LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva posted a message on the school's athletics website earlier this week.

The purpose of the letter was his wrap-up of the recently completed Tigers athletics year. Alleva correctly pointed out that LSU will be ranked among the top 25 overall athletic programs for the ninth straight year when the final Director's Cup standings will be released later this month.

Alleva also wrote that LSU was the lone Southeastern Conference school to register 10 victories in football, 20 victories in men's basketball and 40 victories in baseball. He also listed the team accomplishments during the school year.

The football team won ten games for the seventh time in the last nine years. The men's basketball team won 20 games for the first time since 2009 and advanced to the second round of the NIT. The women's basketball team reached the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.

The baseball team won its fifth SEC tournament title in seven years and was a NCAA tournament national seed for the third straight year. The gymnastics team had a third-place finish in the Super Six. The men's golf team finished third at the NCAA championships.

The men's track team was fourth in the NCAA championships, while the women's team was sixth. Six other teams participated in NCAA postseason play - softball, volleyball, men's swimming, women's swimming, women's tennis and women's golf.

LSU had success with its athletes' academic records off the field. So, it certainly appears that 2013-14 was a good one for the Tigers athletic program.

The recently completed academic year was a good one for LSU athletics, but there is one fact which is somewhat disturbing. For the second consecutive school year, no Tigers team won a SEC title - discounting a league tournament title in baseball.

For the second consecutive school year, LSU finished sixth in the overall SEC All-Sports standings. The addition of Texas A&M and Missouri was a factor as the Aggies finished ahead of the Tigers in both years - third in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

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It has been more than ten years since LSU had finished lower than fourth in the all-sports standings. The SEC championship drought is rare. One must go back 30 years to have a similar stretch of no SEC titles. The Tigers won no conference championships in 1981-82, 1982-83 and 1983-84.

Some of the Olympic sports had their best seasons in years. The gymnastics team finished third in the country - their highest ever. The men's golf team lost in the national semifinals - its highest finish since 1967. But, the fact that gymnastics and men's golf were the top programs is telling.

LSU athletics 2013-14 year in review: Top teams

The most visible sports had good seasons, as Alleva pointed out. But, those results failed to stir the passions of the LSU fan base.

The football team reached double-digit victories for the seventh time under coach Les Miles - a good accomplishment. But, LSU has appeared in one BCS bowl since winning the national title in 2007. The Tigers participated in four BCS bowls from 2001-07 - two under Nick Saban and two under Miles.

The men's basketball team eclipsed the 20-win mark for the first time in five years and won a NIT game on the road - against San Francisco. But, LSU has one winning SEC record in men's basketball since its Final Four season of 2005-06. Rarely is the PMAC half-filled for a basketball game.

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The baseball team put together a late-season run to win the SEC tournament and host a regional as a national seed. But, LSU failed to reach the College World Series for the fourth time in the last five years. Tigers baseball fans expect nothing less than a June trip to Omaha.

The women's basketball team advanced to the regional semifinals in the NCAA tournament for a second consecutive season under Nikki Caldwell. However, this is a program which was making trips to the Final Four for five straight seasons last decade.

All four of these programs did good things in 2013-14. But, all four of these programs have not provided the fans with that special season. Both the football and baseball teams nearly had extraordinary seasons recently, but had disappointing ends.

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The 2011 football team took a 13-0 record into the national title game against Alabama. LSU was whipped 21-0 by Alabama in the rematch. The 2013 baseball team won a record 57 games. But, the Tigers didn't win the SEC crown and lost two straight games in Omaha.

Both Johnny Jones and Caldwell are starting to get firmly entrenched as coaches in Baton Rouge. They have done some positive things so far. But, both the men and women basketball programs are closer to the middle of the pack than the top in the SEC.

Florida and Georgia have dominated the all-sports standings for many years. The Gators finished first in the all-sports standings for the 23rd time this year. The Bulldogs have been runners-up 10 times in the last 14 years.

LSU athletics 2013-14 year in review: Top players

Of the other schools in the conference only Texas A&M has the resources which should enable it to be ahead of LSU in the all-sports race. But, the Tigers are right there with all of the other schools. LSU should not be as low as sixth in the all-sports standings.

With the start of the 2014-15 athletics year just a couple of months away, LSU needs a spark from one or two of its major programs. What the Tigers have done in these sports has been acceptable. However, there needs to be a strong desire every year to win a conference championship.

It definitely seems that LSU's fans are starting to tire of continual good seasons. Their wish is to have a couple of those championship seasons. That message needs to be delivered from the athletic administration to the coaches and players.

SEC All-Sports Standings 2012-13
Florida
Georgia
Texas A&M
Tennessee
Arkansas
LSU
Alabama
South Carolina
Kentucky
Vanderbilt
Missouri
Auburn
Ole Miss
Mississippi State

SEC All-Sports Standings 2013-14
Florida
Georgia
Texas A&M
Alabama
Kentucky
LSU
Auburn
South Carolina
Arkansas
Missouri
Tennessee
Vanderbilt
Ole Miss
Mississippi State


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