Who is Your Rival? – From the Bird’s Nest
The term "rivalry" is used a lot in sports.
Maybe too much.
You'll see it in news articles previewing a matchup: "It's the (fill in the blank) meeting in the rivalry between the two schools.
Earlier this week, Adam Hunsucker of the Monroe News-Star addressed the rivalry between ULM and Louisiana Tech, questioning whether it's still a rivalry. (You can read that story here.)
And that got me to thinking...who is the Cajuns' rival?
And, there are many answers and opinions...and many of them generational in nature.
Find someone in the over 60 crowd and you'll hear the name McNeese State. Those a bit younger will say Louisiana Tech. Today's college students might say ULM. Your rival is whoever you think it is.
But I think there are some criteria that have to be met in order for something to be a rivalry. And, those things are:
THE TEAMS MUST MEET REGULARLY--Ask a college student about a rivalry with McNeese and they'll look at you like you need to see a doctor. The two teams have played twice in football since 1985 and last year's meeting was the first in nearly a decade. Tech? That dormant rivalry got rekindled a bit when the two teams met in 2014-15 but there are no future meetings scheduled. The only state school that really fits the first criteria is ULM, but they don't come close to meeting the other criteria.
THE FEELING MUST BE MUTUAL--Rivalries are two sided. Just because you don't like someone doesn't mean the other guy feels the same way. Ask an LSU fan about their football rival and they'll probably say Alabama. Trust me, the Tide doesn't feel the same way. Auburn and Tennessee would both win that honor before the Tigers would. In the cases stated below, I'm guessing the opposing fans would agree with me.
BOTH TEAMS MUST HAVE SUCCESS---It's not a rivalry if you get whupped every year. That's anger and jealousy. A rivalry is when neither team totally dominates. One might have an advantage, sure, but, in a rivalry, each team wins just enough to make every meeting one that gets the fans' blood boiling. For me, this is a key component. And, it's why ULM isn't listed here.
THE GAMES MEAN SOMETHING---For some this isn't a criteria. You could play your rival when each team is winless and you'd still be fired up. But take those games and play them with a championship, a bowl berth or a bye in the first round of the conference tournament on the line and you've REALLY got something. This isn't a hard and fast criteria. But it sure helps.
So...having said all of those things, who is the Cajuns' rival?
Well, as it is just about everywhere, it depends on what sport you're talking about. For some fans, there's a bleed-over. They may look at someone's basketball team the same way they look at their football team. And, that's fine. I mean, Texas and Texas A&M is a rivalry in any sport. Ditto Oklahoma and OSU. But, for the most part, it varies from sport to sport. That's especially true in leagues like the Sun Belt, which has had a fluidity when it comes to membership.
So, you might disagree, but here are mine:
FOOTBALL--ARKANSAS STATE--The two programs have been very similar over the years. They've been bad at the same time, been just ok at the same time and they've been good at the same time. They've played annually, like, forever and I'm betting if you ask the good folks in Jonesboro, they'll agree with this. It's been a home team series, with the visitors winning only three times since 1992. (The Cajuns have won twice in Jonesboro, the Red Wolves once in Lafayette.) And, BAM! That rivalry got kicked up a notch (well, several notches) in last year's game when both teams celebrated a win and did plenty of smack talking along the way.
MEN'S BASKETBALL--GEORGIA STATE--When Western Kentucky left for other pastures (you didn't expect me to say greener, did you?), it left a void for Cajuns' basketball fans. WKU and the Cajuns met with championships on the line from the time the Cajuns entered the Sun Belt through the Jessie Evans era. Bot teams dipped, but that didn't stop the intensity. And, when the Cajuns won in Bowling Green with six men on the court, well....that just cemented it.. (Note to Bob Marlin and Rick Stansbury: If you need each other's phone numbers, give me a buzz. Yes, that's a hint.) But with WKU gone, now who? Enter Georgia State, who met the Cajuns with the SBC title on the line their first year in the league. Ron Hunter is an easy target if you're the opposition for his propensity to coach while standing six feet onto the court. And, the teams have met in the SBC Tournament three times in four years. This is turning into some good stuff.
BASEBALL--SOUTH ALABAMA--Well, duh. This goes back to the 1991 Regional in Baton Rouge and there hasn't been much letup since. They've been the two top programs in the league over the last 25 years and all you have to do is say "look at them Jaguars" to Cajun fans and their nostrils flare. The Sun Belt has tried to force Troy and ULM as the teams' rivals, but history says that will probably never happen. This is as big as any rivalry in the league in any sport. If the Sun Belt insists on making in-state match ups for the final weekend, then this series should be played the week prior. But the two teams aren't even scheduled to play next year. That's a travesty.
WOMEN'S BASKETBALL--TO BE ANNOUNCED--The Cajuns' program has developed some consistency under Garry Brodhead. But this program was down for so long, they are just now starting to develop some rivalries. The Cajuns celebrated in Jonesboro this season, but Little Rock is A-State's rival. Troy has a chance to get this slot, given the long relationship between Chanda Rigby and Brodhead. But this is a story in progress.
SOFTBALL--SOUTH ALABAMA--They've been the two best programs in the league since Sun Belt softball became a reality. The league has gotten progressively better, but these two programs pretty much rule the roost (Texas State is joining the party.) The Cajun fans think South Alabama coach Becky Clark is as obnoxious as it gets. and Jags' fans feel the same way about Mike Lotief. South Alabama has won just enough in this series to make both fan bases look forward to this weekend every year.
BEST CHANCE FOR A NON-CONFERENCE RIVALRY--BASKETBALL VS. LOUISIANA TECH--If you know Bo, you know Mike Green. This basketball rivalry had some ridiculous intensity over the years. Beryl Shipley vs. Scotty Robertson, Bobby Paschal vs. Andy Russo, Marty Fletcher vs. Tommy Joe Eagles, Jessie Evans vs. Keith Richard. Then things got WACky for Tech and they quit playing. Finally the two teams have gotten back together, and both Bob Marlin and Eric Konkol have publicly said the two teams need to play every year. They do. And, if that holds true, it's not going to take long to re-awaken the rivalry and the intensity. Make it happen guys.