Last Modified: Monday, June 16, 2014 1:06 PM
As recently as four years ago, the only way anyone could have dreamed of becoming a millionaire thanks to Louisiana-Lafayette football would have been to bet heavily against the Ragin’ Cajuns every week in Vegas.
Things have changed, rapidly.
On Friday, that school announced a new six-year extension with coach Mark Hudspeth that will pay him a base salary of $950,000 per year. If Hudspeth reaches all of his contract incentives — which were not disclosed in the school’s news release — he could be swimming in a sea of dollars north of $1 million.
To put that in context, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s base salary in 2013 was $1,088,179.
For ULL and Notre Dame to be in the same sentence is an absurdity, unless the subject is “team mascots named for ethnic groups known to enjoy a good brawl.” Yet Hudspeth’s new contract puts him in the same area code as Kelly as far as the money directly paid by his employer.
For McNeese State fans, this should serve as an eye-opening moment.
Despite being a historical whipping boy to the Cowboys in football, including a 38-17 sandblasting in 2007 that could have been worse had coach Matt Viator not taken a knee in the red zone in the waning minutes, the Cajuns have launched themselves into a financial stratosphere McNeese can’t possibly hope to contend with.
Hudspeth alone will make roughly 37 percent of the total amount paid to all of McNeese’s coaches in every sport. That’s head coaches and their assistants to boot.
In other words, the kid whose head you used to stick in the toilet is back from boot camp and suddenly all jacked up.
It would be a fool’s errand for McNeese to attempt keeping pace with ULL. If you want a concrete example of how it would work out, I present you the Soviet Union in the 1980s — it tried spending money like the U.S. in a real arms race and went bust.
That may all change in a decade if visions of Lake Area economic growth and prosperity become a reality.
For all its attempts to bludgeon us with its “Louisiana” rebranding, ULL is still a regional university. It just happens to serve a region that has far more resources and people than Lake Charles does at the present time. Thus the ability to host super regionals in baseball and softball while handing out exorbitant amounts of money to its football coach.
The only way McNeese will ever compete on that level is if this area grows enough to be on Lafayette’s level. That means both an increase in university enrollment and an increase in the sheer number of local rich people who like spending their free time and dollar bills on college sports.
Though the two cities were once on the same playing field, that’s no longer the case.
In 1970, Lafayette had a population of 68,908 compared to Lake Charles’ 77,998. A decade later, Lafayette creeped past Lake Charles, and now we’re completely eating their dust.
Lafayette has grown to more than 120,000 people in the present day — a 75 percent increase from 1970. Lake Charles has lost 7 percent of its populace in that same time frame, and with it the realistic means to be in a similar financial ballpark. In terms of their respective metropolitan areas, Acadiana maintains the same 50,000-person edge over the Lake Area as a whole.
That McNeese has respectably competed with, and frequently beaten USL/ULL in every sport throughout the ensuing decades despite its more limited resources, is a testament to the coaches who have served McNeese.
For now, McNeese’s main focus needs to be on creating a strong enough base at its current level to give it the ability to trampoline up to something bigger should the much-hyped growth opportunities in this area actually arise.
If McNeese can put the proverbial fence around Lake Charles and sell itself as this region’s team, its boat will rise with the tide. That growth potential is what sets McNeese apart from the majority of its Southland Conference brethren.
Alas, that growth cannot be forced. The materials haven’t arrived yet. It can only be prepared for.
That’s a reality no doubt frustrating for some longtime Cowboys fans to deal with. They can remember the glory days of the ’70s and wonder why the world can’t still be that way. What they might not realize is how much the economics of the situation have changed the game.
Hudspeth’s humongous new contract ought to be enough to hammer that point home.
Alex Hickey covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted By: J.LeBlanc On: 6/23/2014
Title: ULL Financial
Mr Hickey, the basis of your article appears to be that higher population is the main reason why ULL is better than McNeese. I couldn't disagree more. LA Tech has 12k students (only 4k more than McNeese), and the Greater Ruston Metropolitan area only has 58k people (150k less than the Lake Charles/Sulphur area). But yet, they have a very successful 1A athletic department. The harsh truth is that ULL has been working at this forDA a long time, and it's finally paying off. The Cajuns simply have a better game plan than McNeese. So, instead of writing about how we used to beat ULL in football (not the other sports), maybe you should focus on the real reason why McNeese athletics has been suffering, which is the Lake Area has moved on. McNeese has taken a backseat to other entertainment options...like ULL baseball/softball playing postseason ball on ESPN. Or, you can start writing about the possibility of the Pokes going 1A in football and leaving the weak Southland conference, because I believe that is what the locals really want.
Posted By: Darrell Gregory On: 6/22/2014
Title: ULL Financial
Having attended both Universities I find your article very disgusting. Reading it reminds me of politicians who deliberately try to stir up class envy. The fact that one school has been successful in the past few years should not generate envy. Maybe we can all learn how to improve by studying and implementing successful programs, not only in athletics, but in academics also. Must we always be trying to tear down someone in an effort to build ourselves up.
Posted By: GEAUX UL On: 6/19/2014
Title: And while we are at it....
.........he makes it sound as if the population difference between the two areas is only 50K. In reality, if you compare by CSA ( combined statistical area), Lafayette is third in the state, at ~550K, behind only NOLA and BTR, and ahead of Shreveport.
LC is ~225K, less than half of LFT.
Not that facts have anything to do with Mr. Hickey's 'reporting.'
Posted By: scott s. On: 6/18/2014
Title: ULL Financial
Wow, you got paid to write this? Drips envy. I hope no one in the McNeese Athletic department contributed to this... poor reporting. POSSIBLY this time of year there is not enough to report on about MSU... BUT, there is enough positive going on at ULL that reflects well on the region and state. I picked up the Lafayette paper subscription 2 months ago and get the Press at work. It appears Jim G. Is the only one "Consistently" reporting sports with out bias.
Posted By: Richard B Pruitt On: 6/17/2014
Title: McNeese Beat Writer?
If Mr Hickey wants to write about ULL, maybe he should work for the Lafayette paper? Perhaps there is a story about what shape the former Athletic Director left the department in when he bolted to Tech? Maybe he could also probe into where the money has gone that was supposed to be spent on Athletic goals? How about where the Hotel Tax money is going? Could it be they are being diverted to "other purposes"?
Posted By: moved from lafayette in 1974 On: 6/16/2014
Give up the man has spoken
Posted By: Michael J. Patin, P.E. On: 6/16/2014
Title: UL Flexes it muscle
Mr. Hickey, you need to get your facts straight. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is a National Research University and almost a Tier 1 university as defined by the SRCB. McNeese is not even close to the same level as UL.
Please get your facts straight.
Posted By: pncomeaux On: 6/16/2014
Title: ULL is indeed a 'Statewide' university
Per the Board of Regents, there are 3 levels of universities in LA: flagship (lsu), 'Statewide,' and 'regional.'
ULL, & LaTech (and for the time being) UNO, are 'Statewide,' and as such, have a stricter set of admissions standards, etc.
Everyone else, including MSU, are 'Regional.'
Just thought this important correction/point needed to be made.