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UL athletics finishes No. 3 nationally in pentathlam

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, July 6, 2014


It was a spectacular school year to be a Ragin’ Cajun fans. Here UL fan Caroline Savoie celebrates with other fans following Tyler Girouard’s three-run home run that put the Cajuns one win away from a second trip to the College World Series. (Photo: Leslie Westbrook/The Advertiser )

It’s year 10 of the pentathlam.

If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a concept started by UL Ragin’ Cajun diehard fan Glen Raggio a decade ago.

As the story goes, he got a little tired of hearing that more fans would go to Cajun athletic events “if they only won more games.”

Thinking that the teams he followed most seemed to be winning at a pretty good rate in his mind, Raggio began charting the records of all the Division I athletic programs in the five most popular sports in these parts – football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball and softball.

As it turned out, he made quite a point that first season. Of the 264 schools in 2004-05, UL ranked No. 3 with a .721 winning percentage.

The Cajuns followed that by finishing 14th in 2006 and 17th in 2007.

That run of top 20 seasons ended with that 2006-07 campaign … until this past season, that is.

For the second time, since the pentathlam project began, the Cajuns are No. 3 nationally (out of 319 programs) and this time with an even better winning percentage of .746.

The only two athletic departments to fare better in those five sports were Louisville (.760) and Florida State (.748).

Like nearly every year, the results show an overwhelming dominance in the top 25 by teams from major conferences, with a few exceptions. Other departments from mid-major conferences enjoying special school years included San Diego State at No. 11 and Stony Brook at No. 12.

Of the schools that participate in all five sports, Harvard (.629) was actually No. 25. If you allow a school like Wichita State, which doesn’t play softball, the Shockers (.685) would be No. 25.

I’ve heard the critics of the pentathlam over the years, and certainly there are points to be made. For instance, football gets devalued a bit because it doesn’t play nearly as many games in a season as baseball or softball, or even basketball.

The levels of competition are obviously very different between some of the elite leagues and some of the mid-major conferences.

And yes, it is true that for schools like Michigan or Minnesota, it might be more fair to include hockey than baseball, because that’s where the emphasis is for those schools.

But while I get all the criticisms and loopholes. I don’t believe that Raggio ever claimed that this project was a 100 percent comprehensive view of college athletic departments.

The point is that whether you agree with all of the facets of it or not, it still takes quite a successful school year to make the top 25, Unless a school is just out of this world in one or two sports, it’s very difficult to finish very high if you’re not at least average in all five.

Case in point, the next Sun Belt school in the standings was Western Kentucky at No. 35. The next Sun Belt school that’s still currently in the Sun Belt is Arkansas State at No. 55 as a four-sport school and the next five-sport school would be South Alabama at No. 111.

The next highest state school (other than LSU at No. 14) was McNeese State at No. 48.

For example, because the project is just a decade old, I started thinking about some other years in the past that UL might have eclipsed this year .746 winning percentage.

The problem is when women’s basketball was good in the mid-1980s, softball and baseball weren’t elite yet. And by the time softball and baseball starting to shine, women’s basketball was going through a stretch where it won 13 games over a four-year stretch.

That’s the point. It takes balance to rank highly and that’s very difficult to achieve for a mid-major program – pentathlam or no pentathlam.

For the record, the best I could find was 1994 when men’s basketball was 22-8, baseball was 42-15 and softball was 57-5 to help produce a .711 winning percentage – which would have been good enough for sixth this year.

The 1989 school year wasn’t bad either. Baseball was 49-13, football was 7-4 and softball was 48-16 to produce a .678 winning percentage, which would have been 10th this year.

Again, the point here isn’t to get caught up in the details or the what-ifs. It doesn’t really matter if you’re eighth or 10th or 12th. Any of those spots display impressive consistency for a school’s athletic department.

Moreover, there’s some lagniappe involved in this year’s release of the five-sport spreadsheet. Being the 10th year, Raggio also released the 10-year totals.

The Cajuns were No. 24 over the last decade of work with a .615 winning percentage. The only other “mid-major” in the top 25 over the 10-year stretch was BYU at No. 17 and really BYU has been a national athletic department for almost four decades now.

Some other mid-majors with great showings that might surprise some college sports fans are Fresno State at No. 27, Coastal Carolina at No. 30 and Kent State at No. 34.

Equally surprising is that North Carolina’s troubled athletic department was No. 1 in winning percentage over the last 10 years.

For the record, the next closest Sun Belt school over the last decade was Western Kentucky at No. 48. The next closest current Sun Belt school was Texas State at No. 76.

The next closest state school (other than LSU at No. 7) was McNeese State at No. 101.

So to get back to Raggio’s original point, UL’s football program may not be Boise State, its men’s basketball program may not be Gonzaga or Butler and its baseball program may not be Cal-State Fullerton.

But compared to schools of its kind all across the nation, the Ragin’ Cajuns have fared awfully well in the sports that their fan base flocks to the most.