Joe Alleva will go down as one of the most unpopular Athletic Directors in school history. And look, I get it. No one likes the accountant. He raised prices, found ways to squeeze money out of fans at every turn, lost political fights, and generally made enemies every time he opened his mouth.
Believe it or not, though, I’ve come here to praise Alleva, not bury him. Because it wasn’t like he found ways to monetize tailgating just for the hell of it. He was keeping up with the neighborhood, and the money he raised he plowed back into the athletics program.
Carl Maddox wasn’t all that popular either. But the legacy a Builder leaves behind lasts for generations. Alleva improved facilities for nearly every program, but the symbol of the improvements he made to the athletic program’s physical plant is best seen by putting something there that wasn’t there before:
Joe Alleva helped birth LSU’s Beach Volleyball program in 2014. When sports shut down in March, the Sandy Tigs were ranked #1 in the nation. Not bad progress.
The 2014 team played off campus at the Mango’s Beach Club and managed a 6-10 record. These things don’t get built overnight. Or do they? In 2015, the team posted its first winning season, a 14-9 campaign. In 2016, just the third year of the program, LSU won 20 games and notched its first two victories over top 10 teams.
By 2017, in the program’s fourth year, LSU went 27-8, finished in the top ten, qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time, made it all the way to the semifinals, and boasted the program’s first All-Americans in Claire Coppola (DiG Magazine, VolleyballMag.com) and Kristen Nuss (Volleyball Mag.com).
The team repeated its semifinals appearance in 2018, but the program truly broke through in 2019. LSU marched all the way to the finals before bowing out to #1 USC in a 3-2 match. LSU finished the season ranked #3 in the nation and Claire Coppola and Kristen Nuss were named the CCSA pair of the year. The pair won their second consecutive USAV Championship in 2019.
In five years, the program went from literally nothing to one of the best programs in the nation, and definitely the best outside the west coast where powers UCLA and USC reside.
As a reward on that early investment, the team moved from its off campus digs to the brand new LSU Beach Volleyball Stadium in 2019, on the former site of the Dub Robinson Tennis Complex.
The program has already fostered a party atmosphere during games, blasting music and serving frozen drinks. The team has responded, reaching that #1 ranking by beating UCLA in that cozy new home. It’s a state of the art facility hosting one of the finest teams in the nation.
And it’s not merely the beach volleyball team which got a heavy investment.
Football, of course, leads the way with the Tiger Stadium expansion in 2014 which expanded capacity past 100,000. There’s also those fancy new suites for their fancy pants big dollar boosters and new video boards. The school renovated the practice facility and then dropped $28 million on a state of the art locker room which includes what can only be described as sleeper sofas at every locker.
But it wasn’t just the football team which enjoyed the effects of those larger budgets. Almost every program experienced some sort of facility upgrade in the past decade:
BASEBALL: Skip Bertman Field is dedicated in 2013, but the new Alex Box turned ten years old in 2019, just in time for renovations, primarily for the fan experience: the Yard, new video boards, concession area TV’s, and Legacy Plaza.
BASKETBALL: LSU installed new practice facilities attached to the PMAC in 2010 as well as new locker rooms and the largest indoor video board in college sports.
GOLF: The golf program opened a new practice facility at the University Club in 2019. The University Club course itself was redesigned in 2010 and was named as an NCAA regional host in 2013 due to the upgrades.
GYM: The gymnastics program started selling out the PMAC, turning events from a cavernous distraction into one of the hottest tickets in town. In 2016, the new practice facility opened, a 38,000 square feet stand-alone facility exclusively for the use of the gym team. No program has gotten bigger, faster than the gym team.
SOCCER: The program completed its Phase 2 renovations in 2011, adding a second level of bleacher seating to the existing Soccer Complex.
TENNIS: The Dub closed after nearly four decades of use, and LSU opened the new LSU Tennis Complex in 2015 with 12 outdoor and 6 indoor courts.
TRACK: Bernie Moore’s most recent round of renovations completed in 2011, included a state of the art track resurfacing.
Winning doesn’t just happen, you have to invest in it. Joe Alleva had his faults, but he never wavered in his investment in Tiger Athletics. He raised money, and then poured it back into the program, in order to keep it competitive nationally.
The symbol of that improvement is the beach volleyball team. Where once there was nothing, now there is the best team in the nation.