The transition to the modern era
From 1933 to 1978, LSU had just three full-time Athletic Directors. OK, Harry Rabenhorst filled in on interim basis for a year after the sudden death of Jim Corbett, but for 45 years, LSU enjoyed incredible stability at the position with some of the best men to ever work in sports administration.
Both Corbett and Carl Maddox have national sports administration awards named in their honor, such is the esteem they are held in by within the profession. TP Heard, our first AD, not only built Tiger Stadium, but spearheaded such innovations as the in-kind athletic scholarship.
A good athletic director would have trouble measuring up to such a legacy. And Paul Dietzel was not a good athletic director.
Program Overview 1978-82
Athletic Director: Paul Dietzel
National Titles: None
Conference Titles: Basketball (1979 & 1981); Wrestling (1979-80)
Programs Added: Softball (1979); Women’s Track (1980); Women’s Golf (1980)
Programs Ended: Softball (1981)
Facilities Added: None
On paper, it made sense.
By 1978, Dietzel’s national championship team had receded to the fog of legend. The legends still walked around the town and wielded considerable influence over the program Billy Cannon helped get Charles McClendon fired. Warren Raab was a fixture in the community, and a towering legend of the winningest QB in LSU history that not even Bert Jones could measure up to.
Dietzel had AD experience, having held the title as the head football coach at South Carolina and then again at Indiana since 1976, where he had landed after his coaching career ended. He had a good reputation as an administrator and even better, he was a link to LSU’s glorious past now that bygones were bygones.
Dietzel took the job on the condition that the McClendon coaching situation had been taken care of, and he wouldn’t be put in the awkward position of firing his head coaching replacement at LSU. He received the requisite assurances and… well, no one took care of the McClendon situation.
Left holding the bag, Dietzel allowed McClendon to stay on for two more seasons, so that he could serve as the president of the AFCA, a job only open to active coaches. McClendon, urged on by some in the local media, viewed this as a stab in the back.
To give Dietzel credit, it was time for Cholly Mac to go and the entire Board was on board with moving on. It’s just that no one committed to it, and Dietzel actually found an elegant solution which allowed Mac to bow out with dignity. It just blew up in his face. Of all the things to go wrong under Dietzel, this one was the least his fault.
But if we were to judge an AD, I think there’s four basic criteria:
1. You gotta win. Now, the AD doesn’t coach ‘em up, so he’s responsible for coaching hires.
2. You gotta make money. No one likes the accountant, but it’s the AD’s job to bring in the cash, usually on the backs of the fans.
3. You gotta do PR. Not just keeping morale up to sell tickets, but you have to avoid scandal so Bob the Alumni doesn’t have to take it in the shorts from that jerk who went to Bama.
4. You gotta build something. You want to leave the place better than you found it, and often times, your lasting legacy is a building, the facilities, or even a program.
Paul Dietzel failed at all four. Let’s dive in.
In Dietzel’s four years, LSU would win just four conference titles in all sports: two in hoops and two in wrestling. He gets no credit for inheriting Dale Brown at his peak, and we’ll get into the basketball team in a bit. Wrestling, he does get some credit. We covered this in a previous installment, but wrestling became an elite SEC program in the last days of SEC wrestling, and we even sent a wrestler to the Olympics (George Atilyah).
Other than that, it was bad. Not just that, he made a lot of hires in his four years, and they almost uniformly turned out to be disasters. In four years as AD, he made 5 men’s sports head coaching hires. The longest tenured of them would be baseball’s Jack Lamabe, who lasted just 5 seasons after one winning season. That’s his best hire, too. His five men’s coaching hires last for a combined 14 years.
Women’s sports didn’t fare much better. He made 6 coaching hires plus a women’s AD, and those seven hires lasted a combined 20 years. All in all, Dietzel made 11 hires who lasted a combined 34 years, or just over three years per hire.
And they weren’t getting promoted to better jobs. Lamabe had four winning seasons out of five. Before coming to LSU, he brought Jacksonville within one game of the College World Series, but he’d never make Omaha at LSU, and he never got another head coaching job again. Again, this was Dietzel’s best hire.
He also lost two of his most successful coaches. One year removed from a 36-3 season and two years removed from a national runner-up finish, Jinks Coleman suddenly resigned as the women’s basketball coach in the middle of the season.
She followed Steve Carter, the successful tennis coach out the door. Dietzel denied there was a purge going on, “I don’t think you can call the changes a mass exodus at LSU. None became angry at the way I’ve run things. But then you have to run things in an athletic program the way you want them and like them. That is what I’ve been doing.”
He further stated, “Jinks told us she was resigning because of a personal matter. It had nothing to do with money, duties or anything like that. A personal problem came up and she didn’t want to coach anymore. We tried to talk her into staying. As for Steve Carter, “I never had a coach who was an administrator and I wanted Steve to remain on the staff as tennis coach only. But I think Steve didn’t want to continue just coaching anymore.” added Dietzel.
Chasing off highly successful coaches in the non-revenue sports only works out if the teams kept winning. They didn’t. Women’s hoops muddled through several 500 seasons for the rest of Dietzel’s tenure and the bottom fell out of the tennis program. Steve Strome guided the team to 7th and 8th place finishes in the ten-team SEC.
Dietzel found from his prior experience at South Carolina that an alumni organization could really help with fund raising. He created an entity called the Varsity Club, which you probably know today by a different name: Tiger Athletics Foundation, or TAF.
In 1978, it wasn’t the powerhouse organization it is today, but was nothing more than a new account in the LSU Foundation, dedicated to athletics. It wasn’t a separate organization, could not make its own transactions, nor govern itself. At the beginning, it was a way to raise money for scholarships and small projects, a line item which still exists.
That’s the positive part of the ledger. The negative? By the end of the 1981-82 fiscal year, LSU athletics lost $1,435,470. Losing is bad, but know what gets you fired as an AD? Failing to turn on the money faucet. Dietzel resigned due to the state of LSU’s accounts. Which leads us to…
Upon realizing the potential shortage in the athletics accounts, Chancellor James Wharton ordered what would become a year-long audit. Three department officials were dismissed and five more would face discipline.
A 90-page report that showed evidence of falsified expense reports, excessive overtime payments and personal expenses billed to the university.
Jack Gilmore, assistant athletic director for business; Patricia Newman, assistant athletic director of women’s athletics, and Jan Johnson, the women’s track coach, were dismissed. Mr. Wharton refused to identify the five other employees under scrutiny.
Patricia Newman was particularly crippling. Newman was largely in charge of women’s sports, which Dietzel never showed much interest in except to cut, and her involvement in the scandal set back women’s sports at LSU for a decade. Women’s sports lost its primary administrative advocate with her dismissal.
“I’m deeply grieved that some of our most reputable staff members were involved in acts too serious to excuse,” Wharton said.
Eventually, Dietzel himself was cleared of wrongdoing. As The New York Times reported:
An audit of Louisiana State University’s athletic department has found mismanagement but no criminal wrongdoing, District Attorney Ossie Brown said Wednesday. ‘’We’ve gone through all the documents,’’ he said.
‘’Unless I come up with something other than what I have, I don’t plan to bring it to the grand jury.’’
The audit, covering July 1, 1980, to Jan. 31, 1982, was released last May by the university’s chancellor, James Wharton, and turned over to Mr. Brown for examination. It showed mismanagement of funds, shortages of funds in football and basketball receipts and poor accounting practices.
But as far as exonerations go, let the term “grand jury” be your guide. Dietzel may not have been criminal, but his management of the school’s finances were probably negligent, and the result of a whole host of poor practices.
The scandal could have been worse, but its never good to make The New York Times for the mismanagement of your department.
Dietzel’s legacy at LSU didn’t manifest in any new building projects. Due to Maddox’s building binge, there simply wasn’t much left to do. Maddox rebuilt nearly every facility on campus, and Dietzel never had a need to build a new facility.
He is remembered more for what he tore down. Given the sudden financial pressure, Dietzel wasn’t looking to build, he was looking to cut. And the first thing on the block was things he viewed as expendable: women’s sports.
In 1979, the softball program would play its first game. Dietzel inherited the project from Maddox, and he could have thrown his support behind it. It would have helped the school in its new push for Title IX compliance, and he could have been the one to build Tiger Park.
Instead, softball played its first game in 1979 and would play its last in 1981, a mere three year legacy. Carol Smith, the softball coach, wasn’t even a fulltime employee, and made ends meet by starting her own construction business.
After three years of virtually no support, the softball team quietly folded, not to return to campus until 1997. Looking to cut even more expenses, Dietzel famously turned his knife to the women’s gymnastics program.
“The hard part was, we started being excellent,” Breaux says. “In 1981, we were an outstanding team, and you come back from the national championships, and you’re told you can’t have a full time assistant coach. Alabama, Florida, Georgia are building up their programs, hiring multiple assistant coaches, building new training centers, and we’re losing ground.
“And you get a phone call that we’re going to drop the sport.”
Oh, that phone call. It proved winning wasn’t always enough, something Breaux learned the hard way. Despite racking up wins right and left, Breaux was forced twice to fight off cancellation of the program. Then LSU athletic director Paul Dietzel eyed Breaux’s team as a cost-cutting area.
Once again, the power of a fiery ‘no’ breathed from the mouth of a dragon.
“I had a phone call come from across the street,” Breaux recalls. “I had an office in PMAC. I got a phone call from the woman who was our primary women’s administrator. She said, ‘He’s going to call you to come across the street. Don’t come across the street.’
“He called me, and I said, ‘No sir, I’m not coming across the street.’”
Instead, Breaux went to see Bankhead, whom she says “gave LSU gymnastics its start, both men’s and women’s.” Bankhead got on the phone with board members, boosters, and even the chancellor.
“He made some phone calls, and we began to wage a battle,” Breaux says. “And we won.”
The lesson here being, don’t mess with DD.
Dietzel would expand track and golf into women’s sports. Track was especially easy because he didn’t even have to hire a new coach, Bill McClure just saw his duties expand. Longtime assistant Boots Garland would take over the job for a single season in 1982.
So Dietzel did end up adding two women’s sports and saw the transition of women’s sports from the AIAW to the first year of NCAA competition in 1982. However, his legacy is planting the seed that would eventually become the tree of TAF. Which is not a bad legacy to have.
Title IX and Wrestling
In 1979, the government issued a new policy interpretation of Title IX. Schools must meet the following three criteria: that the number of athletic scholarships for each sex be roughly proportional to the ratio of athletes participating; male and female athletes should receive equivalent treatment, benefits, and facilities; and that they prove that the athletic interests of male and female students are effectively accommodated.
The rub was the first part of the test, the so-called proportionality test. The interpretation actually stated that:
“This section does not require a proportionate number of scholarships for men and women or individual scholarships of equal dollar value. It does mean that the total amount of scholarship aid made available to men and women must be substantially proportionate to their participation rates.”
However, in application, the test became athletic scholarships must be equal to the ratio of men and women in the student body. As written, the rule was that if you had 500 male athletes and 100 female athletes, the scholarships must be offered at a 5:1 ratio, but this was never how the proportionality test was applied.
Almost immediately the test became that if your school was 55% male, then you could only offer 55% of your athletic scholarship money to men. Instead of the ratio of athletes, the proportionality test was applied to the ratio of the student body. This change was simply transformative, and is the fundamental basis of women’s sports today. It opened the doors for female participation, and it would quickly become a floodgate.
The NCAA would oppose it nearly every step of the way. The NCAA viewed the expansion of women’s sports as threat to its near-monopoly on the control of intercollegiate athletics, and first attempted to carve out an athletic exemption from Title IX on the grounds athletics did not receive federal funds. The 1979 ruling foreclosed this argument, so the NCAA moved to its next tactic: killing the AIAW.
The AIAW, which had managed women’s sports throughout the 1970s, attempted to negotiate as an equal partner, but the NCAA simply ignored any negotiation. It issued its own rules, put on its own tournaments, and awarded its own national title. The AIAW couldn’t compete with the brand.
Some schools held out, but by 1982, the AIAW’s lost its sponsorships and media rights, forcing it to cease operations. The NCAA was now in charge of women’s sports after opposing them for decades.
Which brings us to men’s wrestling, the unfortunate victim of Title IX and the expansion of women’s sports. The proportionality test meant that schools had to offer roughly half of its scholarships to women’s sports. Now, adding women’s sports helped, but in order to get those numbers in line, you could either cut a non-revenue sport or drop football’s scholarship numbers.
You can see what the powers that be chose. Football pays for everything, and while schools no longer could offer an unlimited number of scholarships, they would settle in on the 85 number. Let’s let each side argue for itself:
The problems lie in complying with the first criterion. In order to achieve gender proportionality, men’s collegiate sports are being undermined and eliminated. This was never the intention of Title IX.
Why are wrestlers so upset about this? The number of collegiate wrestling programs lost to Title IX compliance is staggering; this is especially alarming because, since 1993, wrestling has been a rapidly growing sport at the high-school level. Data compiled by Gary Abbott, director of special projects at USA Wrestling, indicates that in 2001, there were 244,984 athletes wrestling in high school; only 5,966 got to wrestle in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Not to put too fine a point on it: there is only one N.C.A.A. spot for every 41 high-school wrestlers. The numbers have been going downhill for a while. In 1982, there were 363 N.C.A.A. wrestling teams with 7,914 wrestlers competing; in 2001, there were only 229 teams with fewer than 6,000 wrestlers. Yet, in that same period, the number of N.C.A.A. institutions has increased from 787 to 1,049. No wonder wrestlers are unhappy.
Football and men’s basketball consume 74% of the total men’s athletic operating budget at Division I-A institutions, leaving other men’s sports to compete for remaining funds.
Almost half of NCAA football and men’s basketball programs spend much more money than they bring in. In fact, 28% of Division I-A and 64% of Division I-AA football programs don’t generate enough revenue to pay for themselves, much less any other sports. In 2003, these programs reported annual deficits averaging $1.08 million (I-A) and $810,000 (I-AA).
Look, they are both right. It’s undeniable that in order to comply with Title IX, NCAA member schools cut non-revenue men’s sports rather than further cut football scholarships. The biggest victim was men’s wrestling. To pretend Title IX didn’t play a role in killing NCAA men’s wrestling is pure denialism.
But it’s also true athletic departments could have saved men’s wrestling under the proportionality test had they been willing to cut football more. 85 scholarships is a lot, and football was unwilling to make those cuts in order to preserve the non-revenue sports.
The reason is twofold. One, college football predates pretty much every other program on campus. LSU started playing football in 1893, and wouldn’t add basketball until 1909. LSU wouldn’t hire an athletic director until 1933, and even then, TP Heard’s job was about football. The other sports were far closer to intramurals than true competition until roughly World War II. The rest of the athletic department is an appendage which grow off of football, not vice versa.
But secondly, despite, the numbers cited above, football pays the bills. OK, lower level football loses money, but big-time Power 5 level football makes a lot of money. 28% of D-1 losing money makes sense when you realize there are roughly 120 D-1 teams and a little over 60 play big-time college football. Also, being non-profits, they have to show a revenue loss, which is normally the schools taking their profits and plowing it into facilities. Those capital improvements create debt and balance the books. Instead of profit, look at revenue.
Forty schools last year brought in over $100 million in sports revenue. Roughly two thirds of that revenue is from football. Take Texas, for example as the biggest revenue school, which brought in $147 million in football, and $223 million overall. LSU football brought it $114 million of the school’s $157 million earnings.
We made a value judgment as a society. We wanted to expand women’s sports, but we didn’t want to do it at the expense of football, so men’s wrestling took it in the shorts. There’s no cost-effective way to come into compliance with Title IX without cutting men’s non-revenue sports or reducing football. And we don’t want to cut football. Men’s non-revenue sports were sacrificed for gender equity. You can argue whether this was the correct decision or not, but I don’t think you can argue that it didn’t happen.
The SEC stopped sponsoring men’s wrestling in 1981, the last year the NCAA did not sponsor women’s sports. LSU would cut men’s wrestling in 1985.
No Kin to Me
The one thing which did work during this era was the basketball team. From 1979-81, LSU would make the NCAA tournament three times, and this was still in the day with a 40-team field comprised primarily of conference champions. LSU would win two out of three SEC titles in those seasons.
The team was built around All-American and four-time All-SEC Rudy Macklin. In the annals of LSU hoops, I feel Macklin gets a little bit lost. He was not an inner circle Hall of Famer like Bob Pettit, the NCAA scoring champion like Pete Maravich, or an epochal defining player like Shaq. He was simply really, really good at basketball.
In his first college game, Macklin pulled down 32 rebounds, which is still a school record. He would go on to grab 1276 career boards, the most in school history. With 2080 points, he ranks second in school history behind Maravich.
On his way to winning the SEC Player of the Year in 1981 (over Sam Bowie of Kentucky and Dominique Wilkins of Georgia), he would carry the team to its first Final Four since 1954. He would average a double-double over his entire LSU career.
He was Dale Brown’s first truly elite recruit, and Brown would later comment that “we didn’t win the title, but LSU was pretty far down when I came here and pretty near the top when I left.” Macklin was the guy who made that possible.
However, his greatest accomplishment was overshadowed by media silliness. LSU made the Final Four in 1981, losing in the semifinals. This is back when they had a consolation game, so LSU was schedule to play one more game when it was announced Ronald Reagan had been shot. It was up in the air whether the NCAA would bother to put on a meaningless game during such a moment, and in the constant questioning over whether they should play, Macklin quipped that the president “ain’t no kin of mine”. As he would explain after receiving multiple death threats: The question came again, it came so many times that it got me upset,’’ Macklin said. ‘’I said, ‘Look, he wasn’t kin to me, I had a game to concentrate on.’ I had been so busy guarding my man that I couldn’t think about the President.
It would needlessly mar an otherwise brilliant career as a person and a player. Macklin would play miserably in that game, fouling out quickly, but he was the guy who carried LSU to the mountaintop. It took LSU 30 years to get around to retiring the number of the greatest player on its greatest team, and a man who dominates the LSU record book.
He brought LSU to the mountaintop, and made LSU basketball a viable program for really the first time. Maravich and Petit were better (which is no insult), but the programs cratered in their wake. Macklin built something that could be sustained. He made LSU good, and they stayed good.
He’s the rock of the modern era of LSU basketball.