In the indoor football facility at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, there’s a huge picture of former kicker Brett Baer kicking the game-winning field goal to beat San Diego State in the 2011 New Orleans Bowl.
That kick is seen in the Acadiana area as the turning point of the Ragin’ Cajuns football program. It turned a perennial losing program into a winner, all under the leadership of head coach Mark Hudspeth. The kick was the beginning of four straight 9-4 seasons at ULL, including three more New Orleans Bowl wins.
But last week, a report from Tim Buckley of The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette discovered that the NCAA is investigating ULL over allegations that a former assistant coach falsified and/or altered ACT tests from six unnamed recruits at a Mississippi high school in 2010. The NCAA also accuses Saunders of possibly paying a student-athlete for living expenses.
The Advertiser also reports that the NCAA has interviewed Hudspeth and other former and current assistant coaches, and all of them denied knowledge of Saunders’ activity.
ULL athletic director Scott Farmer acknowledged that the investigation is ongoing and the school is cooperating with the NCAA. In a letter responding to the NCAA’s allegations, the university accepted the possibility of Saunders’ testing fraud allegations, but denied the accusation of him paying a student-athlete.
In ULL’s response, the school says that they will self-impose some infractions, including some scholarship limits and forfeiting games from that historic 2011 season, including the win in the New Orleans Bowl, the first bowl win for the Cajuns in 40 years.
But what’s next for the Cajuns, especially Mark Hudspeth? He is basically the mayor of Lafayette after turning the Cajuns’ fortunes around four years ago. The program has built new facilities, including a new locker room and new seats at Cajun Field.
Even though it is possible that as bad of the talent level that Hudspeth inherited, he (or rouge members of his staff) may had to bend some rules to make the Cajuns a better team. But the idea that a possible rogue assistant coach had to fraudulently change test scores to get players into the program does look bad for everyone involved.
And now its fair game to call Hudspeth’s coaching future in question. Of course ULL will not fire Hudspeth for these allegations alone, but if it’s the tip of the iceberg and more comes out, then it could get to that point. But the real question is that could Hudspeth make a move and find another program to coach.
Hudspeth has been on a lot of AD’s short list whenever a coaching change comes up, especially among SEC openings. But would South Carolina give Hudspeth a call, even with the NCAA investigation upcoming? Or would Hud be up for any other coaching job?
The Lafayette community has opened their arms (and wallets) to keep Hudspeth at ULL, and there’s no shame in staying in an area that has enjoyed its most successful run in its program’s history under his leadership. But if the self-imposed sanctions are accepted, that kick by Baer will be still legend in south Louisiana, but according to the NCAA records, it will be a fantasy.