The debate over how LSU identifies itself athletically is more nuanced than it appears at first glance.
Football school? Sure. The tradition and that 102,000-seat Tiger Stadium cast some deep shadows. Just as impossible to ignore is the $56 million profit football turned during the 2016-17 academic year, which pays for many of the other programs on LSU’s campus.
Some would say it's a baseball school, and LSU came within two games of winning its seventh College World Series last season (the Tigers open at No. 9 in the USA Today coaches' poll). With the improvement Will Wade’s men’s basketball team has made this season, some fans on social media were facetiously making the argument that LSU is a basketball school, something that might have been true back in the 1980s and early ’90s when football was struggling. And Wade could have LSU basketball vying for that distinction again one day (file away this fact: The 2022 Final Four is at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome).
But you can also make the argument that LSU is a women’s sports school.
Women’s track and field has won 25 NCAA championships indoors and out. Gymnastics finished second nationally the past two years and is ranked No. 2 once again. And LSU softball has matched one of the sport’s traditional powers, UCLA, as being the only programs to reach the Women’s College World Series each of the past three years.
The Tigers have yet to win a WCWS title, much less reach the final, but that’s a strong stat.
Asked how the LSU gets over the hump and wins that first national title, coach Beth Torina replied: “I wish I knew the answer to that question. We have no idea if we are this close or this far having not done it.”
Torina is fond of recalling a conversation she once had with LSU baseball coaching great Skip Bertman.
Everyone remembers LSU’s five CWS titles under Bertman from 1991-2000. Harder to recall is that Bertman’s Tigers went to Omaha four times, from 1986-90, before finally breaking through on their fifth trip.
“I know we are going to keep knocking on the door,” Torina said Tuesday at LSU's softball media day. “Hopefully it falls into place one of these years.”
For gymnastics and softball — just as was the case for women’s track and field when it won its first national title in 1987 — hoisting one of the NCAA’s big wooden, gold and glass national championship trophies seems inevitable.
Like gymnastics coach D-D Breaux, Torina is bullish on the support LSU gives to women’s athletics to allow programs like hers to succeed.
“I think LSU is a really special place,” said Torina, an Orlando, Florida, native who pitched collegiately for the Gators. “I don’t think that took me to make that happen. I think any kid in the country should want to be a part of this. The culture of Louisiana is fantastic. These athletes are loved and cherished, and treated with a ton of respect. I think that is really fun.”
Not long after saying that, Torina was out the door at Tiger Stadium’s Lawton Room, figuratively taking that first step on another trip toward Oklahoma City — and aiming to beat Bertman by a year to that first national title.