Scott Rabalais: As Olivia Dunne nears end with LSU gymnastics (maybe) she seeks to leave a legacy (2024)

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Philip Barbaree was freezing.

He was playing in a DP World Tour qualifying tournament in November in Albacete, Spain. Temperature about 50 degrees, with a gale-force wind whipping across the golf course to match that number.

A severe wind delay had been called, bringing play to a halt. So the former LSU golfer went into his bag and drew out an LSU beanie to pull over his icy ears.

A caddie of one of Barbaree’s playing partners quickly took notice of the three famous letters.

“Oh,” the caddie said, “Livvy Dunne!”

An amusing story, but hardly surprising. If LSU is an international brand, then so is Dunne. Part social media influencer, part model and still, as she reminded everyone this past week with her performances in the Purple and Gold Classic at the Raising Canes River Center, a collegiate gymnast. One who may be competing for the final time in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Friday when LSU hosts North Carolina at 7:30 p.m.

The staggering numbers follow Dunne like autograph seekers. In January 2023, I wrote a feature on her. At the time, Dunne had 9.3 million social media followers between TikTok, Instagram and X/Twitter. As of Thursday, she had 13 million followers.

Back then, ranked her as the No. 6 college athlete with an NIL valuation of about $2.7 million. Now she ranks third, behind only Southern California basketball player Bronny James (son of LeBron James) and Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders (son of his coach, Deion Sanders) with a valuation of $3.6 million. That’s just ahead of Iowa basketball player Caitlin Clark ($3.1 million) and well ahead of LSU basketball star Angel Reese, who is eighth ($1.7 million).

Dunne is, seemingly, everywhere. She and Reese shared a Sports Illustrated magazine cover in October describing the NIL landscape the two dominate. Dunne will grace her second Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue later this year.

A friend recently sent a clip of a video billboard in a New York subway station, showing Dunne flipping and posing for one of her new endorsem*nts, Nautica. You can also take the subway to Times Square, pop out and quickly come upon the enormous video billboard of the New Jersey girl that Nautica put up last month at the corner of West 48th Street and 7th Avenue.

“I think I know that girl from somewhere,” Dunne posted on her Instagram account as she posed in front of the billboard, a megawatt smile on her face.

Everyone, it seems, knows her.

Despite all the photo shoots and the fame— including dating former Tigers pitcher Paul Skenes, making them LSU’s version of Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce— Dunne still wants to be known for her gymnastics.

It may seem like a bit of a contradiction, but being with her 20-odd LSU teammates in front of 12,000 fans packing the Pete Maravich Assembly Center is Dunne’s cocoon. It’s where she finds detachment from the social media persona she’s created.

“We don’t call her Livvy,” coach Jay Clark said this week. “That’s another person. She’s Olivia or Liv. When she’s in that gym, she’s a gymnast and a teammate and a student at LSU.

“Everything that’s on social media and on the internet, that’s not part of our day-to-day interactions. That’s to her credit. She wants to be part of this team and wants us to be successful.”

Dunne has been part of No. 2-ranked LSU’s success this season. Not as big a part as top-ranked all-arounder Haleigh Bryant or sixth-year graduate transfer Savannah Schoenherr, perhaps, but unquestionably a part.

She has competed in six of LSU’s 10 meets this season, putting up steady, solid scores. Her 9.90 on floor at the River Center tied her career high. She also scored a 9.875 on uneven bars, her first time in that event this season. Only one of her seven scores was below a 9.85.

“This has been my favorite year at LSU so far,” Dunne said. “The way this team gets along with one another is like no other. This year has been a blast.

“The trust we have in one another. The friendly competition we have in the gym. That has helped everyone this year.”

This being her senior year (Dunne is eligible to return in 2025 for a fifth COVID-19 season) brought about a change in her preparation.

“My summers are usually pretty hectic,” she said. “I treated it like my last year so I wanted to make the best of it. It really paid off.

“I wouldn’t say I took it more seriously. I just didn’t know what the right balance was for me as a person with NIL, schoolwork and practice. This year I had the best grasp on it.”

Whether this year is her last at LSU or she returns for one more season, Dunne is keen to leave a legacy at LSU. She partnered with LSU’s Bayou Traditions collective to start The Livvy Fund, designed to help current and future LSU female athletes with their NIL aspirations.

“Part of the legacy I want to leave is that you can have it all,” Dunne said. “You can be a student-athlete, an entrepreneur and find success in all areas.”

So is Olivia Dunne paving the way for another Livvy Dunne at LSU?

Perhaps. But it’s hard to expect anyone to eclipse the original.

SEC standings

Team SEC Pct. Overall Pct. NQS Avg.

Florida# 6-1 .857 14-1 .933 197.820

LSU 5-2 .714 11-3 .786 198.125

Arkansas 4-2-1 .643 7-6-1 .536 197.360

Kentucky 4-3 .571 8-4 .667 197.745

Alabama 3-3-1 .500 12-3-1 .781 197.620

Missouri 2-5 .286 10-6 .625 197.320

Auburn 2-5 .286 8-8 .500 197.180

Georgia 1-6 .143 2-7 .222 196.800

Last week’s results

Friday’s results

LSU 198.425, Auburn 197.050, George Washington 195.100, Texas Woman’s 194.725

Alabama 198.000, Minnesota 197.400, Illinois 196.075, Talladega 191.000

Michigan 197.075, Georgia 196.300

Kentucky 197.800, North Carolina 196.525

Saturday’s results

Florida 197.700, Nebraska 197.150, Lindenwood 196.325, Eastern Michigan 193.600

Sunday’s results

Oklahoma 198.350, Arkansas 197.275

Denver 197.625, Missouri 197.375, New Hampshire 195.250, Southeast Missouri 193.150

Friday’s schedule

North Carolina at LSU, 7:30 p.m. (SECNetwork+)

Iowa State, Long Island, NC State at Florida, 6 p.m. (SECNetwork+)

Nebraska at Arkansas, 7 p.m. (SECNetwork+)

Saturday’s schedule

Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Pittsburgh, 12:30 p.m.*

Auburn, Kentucky, Fisk, Ohio State, 7:15 p.m.*

Sunday’s schedule

Missouri/Arizona/Southeast Missouri at Illinois, 2 p.m.

Alabama at Oklahoma, 3 p.m. (ESPN2)

End regular season

Saturday, March 23

SEC Championships@

Seeds 5-8, 2:30 p.m. (SEC Network)

Seeds 1-4, 7 p.m. (SEC Network)

#-Won SEC regular-season title

*-Kidney Care Women’s Gymnastics Championships, Nashville, Tenn.

@-at Smoothie King Center

All times CST

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Scott Rabalais: As Olivia Dunne nears end with LSU gymnastics (maybe) she seeks to leave a legacy (2024)


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