ENGSTER: Is it time for LSU hoops to return to the old Pete’s Palace?

By JIM ENGSTER | President, Tiger Rag Magazine

LSU’s 34-year-old head basketball coach Will Wade is on the right trajectory for success. In four years as a head coach, two at Chattanooga and two at Virginia Commonwealth, his teams have won more games in each succeeding year, 18 to 22 to 25 to 26.

Wade is young enough that he was not yet alive when Bengal boss Dale Brown went from the pits to the pinnacle in seven memorable seasons between 1975 and 1981. Brown’s bunch won more each year than the last, going from 10 to 12 to 15 to 18 to 23 to 26 to a school record 31 wins in ’81.

It was during this period that LSU enjoyed its Golden Age for basketball with 15 straight national tournament bids, four SEC titles, four Elite Eight visits and two trips to the Final Four between 1979 and 1993. Since then, LSU has posted just six winning conference records in 24 years.

Brown benefited from a new arena when he was coach. Recruits in the early 70s were dazzled by the opulence of the Assembly Center, which is now 46 years old. It remains a comfortable but not intimidating home court. A new arena might be what it takes to stimulate moribund men’s and women’s programs in TigerTown.

Imagine the fascination with a refurbished original Pete’s Palace. The John M. Parker Agricultural Coliseum was home to the Tigers from 1937 to 1971 and is still standing with some relics remaining, including the old scoreboard and the ornate bathrooms which were part of the Art Deco period.

The structure is teeming with history. Two of the greatest players in basketball history, Bob Pettit and Pete Maravich, starred at the facility on Highland Road. Most notably, Maravich broke the NCAA scoring record at the arena in 1970, a mark which endures 47 years later.

At its peak, the Parker Coliseum seated 12,000, but size does not necessarily matter when it comes to championships. NCAA Tournament runner-up Gonzaga plays in a 6,000 seat arena, and Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium seats 9,314.

LSU has played longer in the PMAC than the Tigers did in the Parker Coliseum. A restored arena from the glory days of yesteryear would provide a jolt to the program not seen since Shaquille O’Neal enrolled at the Ole War Skule in 1989.

The top SEC basketball venues by capacity are at these schools.

[table]
1. Kentucky, “23,500”
2. Tennessee, “21,000”
3. Arkansas, “19,368”
4. South Carolina, “18,000”
5. Alabama, “15,316”
6. Missouri, “15,061”
7. Vanderbilt, “14,316”
8. LSU, “13,472”

[/table]

Curiously, the top SEC schools in NCAA Tournament appearances are these members:

[table]

Kentucky,57
Arkansas,31
Missouri,26
LSU,21
“Florida, Tennessee and Alabama”,20 [/table]

With eleven league titles, LSU has earned as many SEC championships in basketball as the Tigers have in football. But the programs are light years apart in 2017. Some outside the arena thinking is necessary to get LSU basketball off life support.

LSU fans may have beer with football in 2017

It has been recommended in this column for some years that LSU should sell beer at football games. The suds and Crown are flowing with vigor in the expensive LSU suites, making it unfair for other patrons to be deprived of the pleasure of getting liquored up legally to root for the home team.

Boozing in the stands has been prominent for decades in Baton Rouge. It is time for LSU to get a cut of the action with the knowledge that beer consumption is often less of a problem with crowd control than imbibing of other adult beverages. More than 30 years ago, Athletic Director Bob Brodhead reported a student who arrived for a game with an intravenous supply of alcohol to keep him fueled for an evening of mayhem.

Limited beer sales could happen this season at Tiger Stadium according to LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard. “We are aggressively working to have it in place in the fall,” Ballard says. “But we are still working through everything to make it happen.”

The University of Texas collected more than $3 million in revenues last year with the sale of alcohol at its games, and Baton Rouge has been striving for years to be more like Austin.

The SEC currently bans member schools to sell alcohol except in private areas such as suite and club seating. A beer garden in Death Valley this season would provide a noble experiment for the league.

LSU has only six home games this season, and the Alabama game is at Tuscaloosa. This is an opportunity for the University to make enough beer money to offset a less attractive home schedule and erase some of the red ink produced by the women’s basketball program.

If Joe Alleva and King Alexander succeed in getting beer legally consumed by the long thirsty Tiger Stadium throng, the LSU brass will be performing a public service that history may judge as their most notable legacy on campus.

The idea has so much appeal that it is possible the venerable stadium could be filled for road games as the LSU faithful gathers in the hallowed arena to consume libations and watch their beloved Bengals play road games from the huge screen in Tiger Stadium.

A recipe for fiscal and physical fitness

LSU had just three of its athletic teams post winning records on the school’s financial ledger in the 2015-16 seasons. Football reported a $55 million profit while men’s basketball was $2.35 million in the black and baseball reaped $1.55 million for the Ole War Skule.

The other 14 team sports on campus combined to lose more than $21 million during the 2015-16 campaign with women’s basketball receiving a dubious distinction for the worst return on investment with revenues of $301,395 and expenses of more than $4.2 million, a staggering loss of $3.9 million.

Women’s gymnastics lost more than $2 million despite competing for conference and national honors. If Joe Alleva wants to increase revenue for this sport, he could follow the lead of Sports Illustrated from its Aug. 21, 1972 issue.

In a story from Anita Verschoth 45 years ago, the sports magazine of record recommended that gymnastics should be a sport devoid of uniforms – or anything else for that matter.

The feature about the reigning American gymnast of the time, Cathy Rigby, showcased the well-honed athlete in her birthday suit. Rigby, who was 19, appeared naked from the back and certainly looked to be the All American girl.

The story, “Sugar and Spice—and Iron,” starts this way:

“Gymnastics may the one sport—diving might be the other—which should be performed in the nude. Gymnastics is simply and wholly grace, beauty, strength, a glorification and exaltation of the human body. Thus, Cathy Rigby, the best U.S. hope for a medal at the Olympics.”

A nude photo of a teen-aged American icon was strong stuff for a sports publication in 1972, but SI boldly provided photographic evidence for its case for nudity on the balance beam, and Rigby’s image is indelible. No doubt Joe Alleva could enhance attention for his spectacular gymnastics program if LSU hosted just one meet with its members performing the way God created them.

This might encourage flabby fans and massive media practitioners to shed their extra baggage. Baton Rouge has been cited in a national survey as the fattest city in America, and it is amusing to witness overweight spectators and slothful reporters at LSU sporting events pass judgment on well-conditioned Tiger athletes.

1 Comment

  1. I’m old enough to remember the nude gymnastics suggestion from SI in 1972 (I was a freshman LSU law student that year) and while I’m certain that such a suggestion will never fly, the thought of the Tigers playing in the Old
    Cow Barn is very intriguing and worth serious consideration, if only for a select number of games. I recently had an opportunity to visit Cameron Indoor Stadium and LSU’s attempt to recreate that sort of atmosphere would be both possible and laudable. Of course, it would also honor the memory of one of the greatest college players ever – Pistol Pete. Geaux Tigers.
    Gary M. Growe, Esq.
    LSU Law
    Class of 1975

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