The history of the Tiger Athletic Foundation starts in 1978. It started out with four employees and became a program that has raised nearly $450 million for LSU athletics.
The first organized fundraising initiative for LSU athletics was started by former-football-coach-turned-athletic-director Paul Dietzel.
Dietzel was the head coach at LSU in the late ‘50s, and after stints as the athletic director for South Carolina and Indiana, came back to LSU in 1978.
While Dietzel was the AD at Indiana, they had an athletic fundraising program called “The Varsity Club.” When Dietzel returned to LSU, he brought the idea with him.
The fundraising program at the time was still a part of the athletic department. When Dietzel left and Bob Brodhead was brought in as the AD, the program was renamed “Tigers Unlimited.”
The program stayed within the athletic department until Brodhead’s departure in 1988, when it was decided that the program would operate as a separate entity from the athletic department. Thus, the Tiger Athletic Foundation was born.
TAF is a private, non-profit organization that is essentially partnered with the LSU athletic department.
The athletic department will tell TAF what ideas they have in mind in for building or upgrading facilities and TAF will then gather donations to pay for those projects. Donations come from many places such as businesses, alumni and fans of Tiger athletics.
One of the four original employees, Rick Perry, is now the President and CEO of TAF. Two of the other employees, John Ferguson, the long-time voice of the Tigers, became the executive director, and Jamie Graham, is now the Director of Ticketing & Parking for TAF.
“The original thing that the organization had to do, was raise money to fix an issue with water-proofing in Tiger Stadium,” Perry said. “The athletic department gave [TAF] a set of seats on the east sideline and said, ‘go raise some money’ to pay for the repairs.”
The cost of the fix was around $3 million, which is around $6.5 million when adjusted for inflation. The first president of TAF, Richard Lipsey, received a loan to pay for the repairs, and the money that came from the donations for the seats was used to pay off the loan and the employees.
In the late 90s, TAF built the University Club, a golf course which is now the home of the LSU men’s and women’s golf teams.
“A group donated the land, we then worked a long-time lease agreement with a golf management company, and were able to open the course in 1998,” Perry said.
The first Tiger Stadium expansion was done on the east side of the stadium.
“We were very fortunate that it was highly successful, everything sold out immediately, and so then we looked at redoing the west side,” Perry said.
TAF then put in club seats on the west side. As the expansions became highly successful, TAF looked for other opportunities to build up the football program, leading to the creation of the Football Operations Center.
During this time, TAF continued to grow other aspects of athletics, like revamping the Academic Center for Student Athletes, which is used by not only student-athletes but also other University students.
Soon, TAF was able to fund the building of the new tennis facility and the new gymnastics facility, which Perry says is one of the best, if not the best, gymnastics facility in the country.
Other projects include the renovations of Mike the Tiger’s habitat, suites in Alex Box Stadium, the basketball, practice facility, the new PMAC video board, which is the largest in college basketball and expansions of the LSU Soccer Complex and Tiger Park.
While the emphasis for the first couple of decades for TAF was updating and building facilities, they’ve started to help in other areas, too.
“A lot of people don’t realize that this year we’ll give $400,000 to scholarships in teaching awards on campus, and we’ve been doing that now for a number of years,” Perry said. “I’m sure the number is now over $3 to $4 million.”
TAF has also helped with projects such as the fastest growing 100 business’ for the College of Business.
The accomplishments of TAF are overwhelming in scope, and there are certainly things that would not have been possible without them.
“I don’t know that all of the expansions of Tiger Stadium, in the time period its been done, would have been possible,” Perry said. “Certainly if that was not possible, the other projects that were done in conjunction with it would not have been possible either.”