It is long past the time when the Louisiana Tech Athletic Department, particularly the football program, should have given up on its delusions of mediocrity.
It’s not just about the won-loss record as Tech moves into its 10th year in the Western Athletic Conference, though that, too, is hard to ignore. There are also the economics that are dragging down not only the once proud football program, but academics as well. We’ll get to the economics later.
Take the Bulldogs’ inauspicious record since entering the WAC in 2001. The 49-64 overall record is less than inspiring and not particularly alluring to prospective recruits. Since 2001, Tech has had exactly three winning records and starting this year at 1-4 doesn’t look too promising. True, they got everyone’s attention that first year, going 7-1 in the WAC, but 7-5 overall, meaning they didn’t win a game outside the conference. The four non-conference losses were to Clemson, Kansas State, Auburn, and Oklahoma State.
Sadly, that’s the last time they’ve been competitive, even in the WAC. Oh, sure, they went 7-4 overall and 6-2 in the WAC in 2005 and 8-5 overall (5-3 in conference) in 2008, including a bowl win over Mississippi State. But records of 4-8, 3-10, 4-7, and three separate 5-7 season records take the luster off the few sporadic winning campaigns.
It’s bad enough that Tech is forced to compete in a conference spread out over seven states, the nearest of which is New Mexico State, but how can you build a rivalry with teams half a continent away? The logistics just aren’t there.
Back in the day when the folks who call the shots were more realistic, Tech had small ball but a great following. Tech and Northeast (ULM) was a guaranteed sellout. Likewise, the annual State Fair affair with NSU. And the rivalries were intense—and fun. Sure, the gate guarantee wasn’t comparable to what the ‘Dogs get from an Alabama, an Auburn, or Penn State. But neither was the guarantee of an embarrassing butt-whipping particularly appealing.
I love Tech. It gave me a chance to pursue a dream and for that, I’ll always be grateful. I will also be eternally grateful for having had the opportunity to see Terry Bradshaw heave that game-winning pass to Ken Liberto as the clock ticked off the final seconds on the State Fair Stadium scoreboard in 1968. I’ll never forget Terry’s touchdown pass to Larry Brewer in the Grantland Rice Bowl with four Akron Zips hanging all over him that same year. And Denny Duron’s winning touchdown pass to Roger Carr in the Division II national championship game against Boise State with less than a minute to go is forever etched in my mind.
But today? Can anyone even name Tech’s quarterback of 10 years ago? Five?
The Bulldogs don’t even have a winning record in their own conference.
Counting last Saturday’s blowout at the hands of Hawaii, they are 36-37 since entering the WAC.
For more than a decade now, Tech has insisted on trying to swim with the big fishes and the big fishes are simply devouring them. Oh, there is the occasional win over Alabama or Oklahoma State or Michigan State but those are so very few and very far between. And there were those games they acquitted themselves well in losing to Alabama and Nebraska (and LSU last year) while playing those teams to a virtual standstill. Again, though, those are rarities to be savored until the next shellacking at the hands of Auburn or Penn State or Miami.
Here are some samples of how the meek shall inherit the earth:
Kansas 34, Tech 14; Florida 41, Tech 3; LSU 49, Tech 10; LSU 58, Tech 10; LSU 24, Tech 16; Texas A&M 48, Tech 16; Navy 32, Tech 14; Auburn 37, Tech 13; Army 14, Tech 7; Kansas 29, Tech 0; Ole Miss 24, Tech 0; California 42, Tech 12; Miami 48, Tech 9; Texas A&M 31, Tech 3; Penn State 49, Tech 17; Clemson 49, Tech 24; Kansas State 40, Tech 7; Auburn 48, Tech 41; Oklahoma State 30, Tech 23.
Those scores certainly get me pumped for Homecoming in this the 40th anniversary of my graduation from Tech where my great-great uncle served as the school’s third president (as Casey Stengel would say, you can look it up).
For the bean counters, there are many more reasons to reign in the runaway money pit that is the WAC and big time football.
In fact, there appears to be more than 4.6 million reasons.
Tech spent nearly $11.9 million on its athletic program during the 2009-2010 school year. Almost 40 percent of that total, or $4.65 million, had to be made up in transfers from unrestricted funds and from other activities in order to balance the budget.
Football ticket sales last year were $730,000 and game guarantees accounted for $1.5 million more. Transfers from unrestricted funds totaled another $1,518,347 for total revenue of $3,748,347 for football.
Travel expenses for the football program totaled $887,330 and game guarantees paid by Tech were $120,000. Salaries, athletic scholarships, operating services and other costs ran the expense total for the football program to $4,057,805, an operating deficit of $309,458. Men’s basketball resulted in an additional deficit of $519,000 while women’s athletics ran a deficit of $1,367,484.
ULM, a member of the more regional Sun Belt Conference, had game guarantees totaling $2,675,000 in football last year. With ticket sales of $340,000, the Warhawks’ football program had revenues of $3,015,000 against expenses of $2,741,492, a surplus of $273,508. Women’s athletics, however, had expenses of $1,992,940 against revenues of only $161,000. ULM, like Tech, found it necessary to transfer $2,828,031 from unrestricted funds to balance the athletic budget of more than $7.9 million.
Grambling also operated at an overall deficit for its football program. With ticket sales and game guarantees totaling $1,570,000 against expenses of $1,730,433 and women’s athletic expenses of $1,424,971 against revenues of only $153,250, GSU found it necessary to transfer $1,611,598 to balance its $5,423,584 athletic budget.
In short, the bloated athletic programs of the three schools are becoming a serious drain on academics. With anticipated budget cuts mandated by Governor Jindal, it’s time the three universities take a critical look at their respective priorities. More cuts are coming and it’s going to hurt. It’s already hurting. There is simply no way the academic programs can withstand further transfers of millions of dollars to prop up reeling, stumbling, faltering athletic programs.
Tech will never be a big time football team. The Bulldogs will never attract enough fans to justify trying to play on the same field with perennial Top 10 powerhouses; the program will never generate sufficient revenue to justify remaining in a conference where the nearest member team is 800 miles away and the furthest a staggering 4,000 miles from home. It’s just bad economics to believe otherwise.
It’s time to downsize. The expectations of moving up to compete with football’s elite were unrealistic. They still are.
The continued practice of transferring funds to athletics—funds needed more than ever for academics—is equally unrealistic. And unfair. It’s time for sanity to prevail.
Do the math.