SNUBBED! Tigers miss NCAA Tourney

For those LSU fans who thought it was the worst it could be when the Tigers were denied its 17th bid to host an NCAA regional on Sunday, on Monday things got worse. For the first time in 18 years, the LSU Tigers will not participate in the NCAA Tournament.

It was announced Monday on ESPN's College Baseball Selection Show, the Tigers (35-24) were left out of the field of 64 for the first time since Skip Bertman's 1988 squad went 39-21.

The Memorial Day mood on Monday turned from that of a holiday to one of anger and discontent as LSU fans voiced their disgust for the Tiger's once proud program hitting rock bottom. The animosity no doubt aimed directly at LSU coach Smoke Laval.

Laval was never a favorite of the rabid LSU fan base. Even when the Skip Bertman disciple won an SEC title in 2003 and made back to back trips to the College World Series in '03 and 2004, he was never in favor with the loyal Tiger following.

Laval supporters cried the fifth-year coach has logged more regular season SEC victories since 2002 than anyone else. But a very vocal fan base concerned itself more with what he didn't do rather than accepting his accomplishments. Coming into the 2006 season, fans braced themselves for what looked to be a rebuilding year.

It was much worse.

Never in even the biggest doubter's wildest dreams could they have imagined a season, an LSU Tiger baseball season, unfolding in such disappointing fashion. The Tigers won only four of 10 SEC series, lost a record five conference games by 10-plus runs and had the first losing record in SEC play since 1983, the season before Skip Bertman came to Baton Rouge. Even the 1988 team, which failed to reach the postseason tournament, managed to 16-11 in league play.

Prior to selection Monday, many figured LSU wouldn't host a regional, which proved true on Sunday when Baton Rouge wasn't named one of the 16 host sites for the first time in 17 years. However, even Laval and his team was optimistic they would land as a No. 2 or as low as a No. 3 seed in the tournament.

No dice. Just prior to ESPN's 11:30a.m. selection show, Laval, who was gathered with his team, received a call informing him his team had not been picked in the field of 64.

Laval and his staff were obviously aggravated. Players sat in shock, especially the seniors, as the fact their season was over.

Seven SEC schools got into the NCAA Tournament, including co-champions Alabama and Kentucky. Also garnering bids were Ole Miss, Arkansas, Georgia, Arkansas and even Mississippi State. The Bulldogs backdoored their way into the postseason after failing to reach the SEC Tournament. LSU had eased past Mississippi State for berth in the conference tournament, but was left on the outside looking in as the Bulldogs were selected.

While the enormity of what transpired this Memorial Day is still registering with LSU fans, the question now is "where does the program go from here?"

It was pretty much the consensus among Tiger nation that Laval would have to tab a fall guy for the disappointing performance of the baseball team this season. The obvious target was pitching coach Brady Wiederhold, figuring that Turtle Thomas would be spared due to his long time connection with former coach and athletic director Skip Bertman.

While the growing sentiment among the vocal mob of LSU fans was to can Laval, before Monday, that seemed highly unlikely. Now, the future of LSU baseball is very much up in the air.

Laval was short with the media when asked about his job and had the thought entered his mind about the possibility of now being retained as LSU coach.

"No!" Laval responded.

That was all he said. However, Laval was visually agitated and it was obvious his job security was weighing heavily on his mind. And it should.

It now seems Bertman will be faced with the toughest decision of his professional career, both as a coach and athletic director. The hall of fame coach must decide whether to admit to a mistake and determine if he is to fire his protégé. Some say Bertman will give Laval another year, but with declining attendance and apathy setting in heavy on the corner of Nicholson and Skip Bertman Drives, the NCAA Tournament selection committee may have forced Bertman's hand on Monday.

Say Laval was to be issued a pink slip, who would be targeted as a replacement? Better yet, who would want to come to Baton Rouge and put together the pieces under the most brutal scrutiny?

The knee-jerk response would be Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco or Alabama's Jim Wells, both Bertman disciples.

Nope, no way, not in a million years.

Wells just won the SEC title and is more than happy at Alabama. Bianco is converting Ole Miss into an SEC power a la Bertman and gets plenty of praise and $$$ for even making the NCAA Tournament. Why would he give up such a sweet deal to jump back into this mess?

There is lots of talk surrounding John Cohen, the man who turned lowly Kentucky from cellar-dweller to SEC champion is just three short years. The question is "why would he leave Lexington?" He has a new stadium, is making more money than Laval and doing in below the radar at a basketball school.

Who knows where the program goes from this point? Will Bertman himself don the No. 15 jersey again and rebuild his once proud dynasty to the heights of the 1990s? Time will tell, but it should make for a very interesting month of June.

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Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag magazine. Reach him at matt@tigerrag.com.

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