Cajuns Vs. Louisiana Tech: It’s About Time – From the Bird’s Nest
This Saturday night, the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns will welcome Louisiana Tech to Cajun Field.
Who? Louisiana what?
Don't blame some young Ragin' Cajuns fans if that's their reaction, as the teams get together for the first time since 2004.
In terms of games played, Louisiana Tech has been the Cajuns' biggest rival. And, the series goes back more than 100 years. Saturday will be the 86th meeting between the two schools. (Northwestern State, with 75, is second.) The Cajuns and Bulldogs played every year but one (1987) between 1945 and 2000.
At that time, Louisiana Tech chose to depart the Sun Belt for the Western Athletic Conference. At the time, they felt aligning with TCU, Rice, Tulsa and SMU would facilitate a move to their ultimate goal of membership in Conference USA. But four years later, the four schools left for CUSA and didn't have the stroke (or maybe the desire) to bring Tech along. Utah State, Idaho and New Mexico State were added to the league and the Bulldogs' closest conference mate was in Las Cruces, New Mexico, which is farther away from Ruston than Pittsburgh. Most feel, however, that Tech's decision was based more on UL Monroe getting football membership in the Sun Belt than anything else. Tech, by their own admission, wanted to achieve "separation" from other state schools.
The two schools played again in 2003-04. And then it stopped. Tech's travel costs in their new league skyrocketed and they played a couple of guarantee games each year to soften the blow. There was no room, and as it turned out, no desire on the part of Tech to play the Cajuns.
Then, in early 2008, the UL athletic department got an email from LA Tech Associate Athletic Director Bruce Van de Velde (Derek Dooley was the AD at the time.) The email said Louisiana Tech was looking to schedule non-conference opponents. According to sources in the department, a phone call was made, telling Van de Velde the Cajuns were interested. Van de Velde's reponse was the email was sent to UL by mistake, and the Bulldogs were not interested in playing because Tech had nothing to gain. And, according to reports, Van de Velde wasn't even cordial about it.
After all, they had achieved "separation" from other state schools by joining a league that was sending their volleyball team to Hawai'i on a regular basis.
The report of the conversation got to UL Athletics Director David Walker, who called Van de Velde to inform him that UL would honor any existing contracts to play Louisiana Tech...but there would be no more scheduling between the two schools in ANY sport until there was a signed contract to play a home and home series in football. And, Walker said, the series had to start at Cajun Field. Walker knew the refusal to play Tech in olympic sports would make it that much more difficult to schedule, because those Tech coaches, faced with travel costs that weren't in proportion to their travel budgets, would be in a big time bind.
At the end of the 2008 season, the Cajuns were hoping for a bowl bid. The Sun Belt had an agreement with three bowls to take a Sun Belt team if that bowl could not fulfill their contractual agreement. But, that was if a Sun Belt team had at least seven wins and the Cajuns were 6-6. The Independence Bowl chose to invite a team from the MAC to play Tech and it was the general consensus that Tech had lobbied hard to keep the Cajuns away from Shreveport (which was confirmed prior to the 2009 season by an Independence Bowl official at the following Sun Belt AD meetings that summer..
Finally, Van de Velde, who had been elevated to AD when Dooley left for Tennessee, relented. But he wanted the first game to be in Ruston. Scott Farmer, who took over as UL Athletics Director when Walker retired, refused. Again, Van de Velde relented and when the contracts were executed, Farmer gave the approval for the Cajuns to start scheduling Tech in all sports.
In 2012, Louisiana Tech's football team was nationally ranked but stumbled in their final two games. They were hoping for a Liberty Bowl bid and shunned the Independence Bowl, which wanted a Tech-ULM matchup. The decision by the administration and the athletic department at Tech meant a very good team with a 9-3 record, would sit at home. Head Coach Sonny Dykes took a job at Cal shortly after. Van de Velde was fired and replaced by McNeese AD Tommy McClelland.
So...the teams are going to play. Finally. And, while this may not be a popular statement, I'm telling you these two teams need to play. Every year. Financially, it makes sense. Fans are going to pack Cajun Field this weekend for the long awaited matchup. Games in Ruston would increase attendance there, and, with the flux of Cajun fans making the trip up highway 167, Tech might have to remove the blue tarps that block off what are always empty seats. Athletic Directors will tell you football scheduling is a very difficult part of their jobs. This facilitates the problem, at least to an extent.
Should elitist attitudes, regardless of who has those attitudes, preclude scheduling games? Well, New Mexico has an elitist attitude toward New Mexico State. So does UTEP. Yet, those two schools are on the Aggies' schedule in football. Every Year. Home and home. And, they play each school TWICE each year in basketball.
No, elitism is no excuse. In fact, there really are no excuses, other than the egos of those involved.
It makes too much sense. Which is why it won't happen. After all, separation has been achieved.