Sports are supposed to be an escape from the real world’s tragedies and trauma.

Not this year. Not at LSU.

Sports Illustrated did a November 1985 cover story on LSU athletics titled “Crazy days at LSU. The 1985-86 sports year of Tito Horford, the Final Four, baseball making its first College World Series, and athletic director Bob Brodhead bugging his own office."

This athletic year for LSU topped it.

Remember the quaint notion last summer that football coach Ed Orgeron was on the hot seat, and how that looked like the big story for 2018-19? Turned out football, which reached and won its first CFP New Year’s Six bowl and finished No. 6 in the final polls, was the stable center of a whirling maelstrom.

It started horribly, with the shooting death in September of men’s basketball player Wayde Sims. I have followed LSU sports almost my entire life, and I can never recall the death of an LSU athlete that was anything quite like the Sims tragedy. A tragedy that cast a pall over the entire athletic year.

Playing for Sims became a rallying point for the Tigers, who kept his memory alive the entire season. They stormed to a surprising Southeastern Conference regular-season championship and trip to the Sweet 16 — only the third time since 1987 that the Tigers have made the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

But even those achievements came with their own peculiar issues. When the Tigers cut down the nets in the season’s final game against Vanderbilt, coach Will Wade wasn’t there, serving a suspension for refusing to talk to LSU officials about his reported conversation with convicted middleman Christian Dawkins on an FBI wiretap. Wade would sit out the entire postseason, not being reinstated until mid-April after his name again surfaced in Dawkins’ second federal trial.

By that time, athletic director Joe Alleva was on his last legs. There was never a scene like the one in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center the night of the Vandy game, as fans booed and chanted and cursed Alleva when he inexplicably attended the game on the heels of the Wade suspension.

To put a twist on a line from Richard Nixon, LSU fans wouldn’t have Joe Alleva to kick around much longer. He was pushed out mere days after Wade came back in, shunted off to serve out the rest of his contract in some fabricated fundraising role. Before Alleva’s seat was even cold, Scott Woodward was in as athletic director, the Baton Rouge native and LSU grad who left Texas A&M and its oil well-deep financial resources returning to his beloved school.

Woodward promised championships, but in the early days of his tenure he presided over near — though spectacular — misses. The gymnastics team rallied strongly from some early-season struggles to win the SEC championship meet in March before a record crowd in the Smoothie King Center, then finished second to Oklahoma for the third time in four years in the NCAA Championships. Beach volleyball, rapidly on the rise, tied for third in the NCAA Championships in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Then the baseball team, never able to live up to the lofty expectations of preseason No. 1 rankings, lost in last weekend’s super regional to Florida State to bring the LSU athletic year to a close.

It wasn’t all sadness and political intrigue though. The 2018-19 athletic year was marked by some incredible individual performances.

In football there was the tough-guy leadership of quarterback Joe Burrow, the hard-hitting play of linebacker Devin White (Tampa Bay's first-round draft pick) and the record-breaking kicking of Cole Tracy, who was only at LSU one season but wound up as the NCAA’s top all-division field goal kicker.

There was the Chris Jackson-like passing and scoring of Tremont Waters, whose scoop to the hoop at the buzzer to beat Maryland in the second round was one of the highlights of the entire NCAA tournament. There was the balletic artistry of Sarah Finnegan, who won the Honda Award as the nation’s top senior gymnast, was named SEC gymnast of the year and won the NCAA uneven bars title (Kennedi Edney won the NCAA vault title).

But the kings of the year were the Duplantis brothers, Antoine and Mondo. Antoine stalked and finally surpassed Eddy Furniss’ 21-year old LSU career hits record, while younger brother Mondo soared past the NCAA pole vault record with his winning effort in the SEC Championships. Not to be outdone, LSU’s Sha’Carri Richardson won the NCAA 100-meter dash before she, like Mondo Duplantis, turned professional.

It’s a good note for LSU athletics to end on as summer makes the clubhouse turn to the start of another athletic year. Football, with its Aug. 31 opener against Georgia Southern, will be here before we know it.

Meanwhile, there is news that the NCAA will be rolling out some violation notices to at least six basketball programs this summer, leaving LSU fans to wonder if the Tigers might be on the list or will be able to distance themselves from the corruption trials roiling the sport.

Happy new year?

We’ll see.


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Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​