LAFAYETTE — This past week, the National Association of College Directors of Athletics and CBSSports.com released a national ranking of athletic departments, and the Ragin’ Cajuns found themselves in the top 50 for the second straight year.
On the surface, the No. 44 ranking is nice, but Louisiana-Lafayette Athletic Director Scott Farmer insists you look a little deeper. Don’t focus on the number, but look at the schools in the Cajuns’ wake.
It’s all about doing more with less.
“We’re ahead of Tennessee, we’re ahead of Michigan, we’re ahead of Nebraska and we’re ahead of Penn State,” Farmer said. “And I sit around knowing that those are all $100 million budgets, and we’re at $20 million.”
The ranking is based on success across five sports: football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and one wild-card sport. Football and men’s basketball, as the highest-profile college sports on the national level, are weighed more heavily.
But what the ranking doesn’t quantify or explain is the correlative nature between athletic success and resources at those programs’ disposal. The Cajuns know they’re behind the eight ball with their relatively small athletic budget and, until recently, lagging facilities. But that hasn’t been a problem.
Baseball coach Tony Robichaux has guided his team to 100 wins over the past two seasons — his is one of only three teams nationally to accomplish that — despite working in an outdated facility without the bells and whistles commonplace at larger programs.
“The outside world might see us as a mid-major, but we don’t need to act like it, talk like it, walk like it, dress like it and play like it,” Robichaux said. “We have some constraints that we maybe can’t get rid of from the outside world, but by playing and competing and overachieving, we can definitely get out of some of those constraints and get some national recognition.”
Farmer said Robichaux isn’t the school’s only coach with this mentality, and that is a big reason behind the Cajuns’ success.
“As a group, they do a phenomenal job in not allowing the limitations to affect them,” Farmer said. “They don’t allow the limitations to affect student-athletes. There’s a lot of people out there that won’t block that out, but they block it out. What’s important? What’s important is coaching those kids up.”
Another thing the Cajuns find important when considering their athletic programs: the “only.”
They are the only school in the country to make the super regionals in both baseball and softball each of the past two years. They are the only school in history to win the same bowl game four years in a row. And there’s no confusing their Ragin’ Cajuns mascot with anybody else, a uniqueness that makes the success stand out just a little more.
“That name Ragin’ Cajuns is continuing to be put out there, and the thing that intrigues me the most about it is there’s only one of us,” Robichaux said. “You can’t get confused with who we are. That’s one thing I love in the recruiting of this and the selling of this: There’s only one of us.”
This success — and doing more with less — has allowed the Cajuns time to make up some ground. Later this summer, they’ll unveil the new Athletic Performance Center and an updated soccer/track complex. Plans are in the works to provide long-overdue facelifts to M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field and Cajun Field.
The challenges still exist but, after two straight banner years, the Cajuns are striking while the iron is hot — and they’re hoping to keep it hot.
“You want to take advantage of the success that we’ve had,” Farmer said. “Yes, we want to turn that into more dollars, because more dollars can build more facilities or fill whatever need we have at the time, which helps us recruit better athletes, which helps us win more games. It is a positive cycle.
“As great as last year was, as great as the year before is, what truly excites me is that I think we can be better. I think we’ve got a plan in place.”