Friday, October 25, 2013

Let's just say Louisiana now

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Kevin Foote of the Daily Advertiser knocks it out of the park today with an editorial about the UL athletic name controversy. It’s so thoroughly well-written that I don’t even care that he indicts people like me as well, who get annoyed when ESPN uses incorrect references during games. I see Foote’s point, but that’s not going to stop bothering me.

He cites some examples of colleges in other states that either don’t use their full, formal names or changed their names the way UL wanted to without incident. He could have added to that list Missouri State University, in my former home city of Springfield, which changed its name from Southwest Missouri State without having to appease Mizzou. I was impressed by that and frustrated that my two-time alma mater wasn’t allowed to take the same route.

Notice the site from which I’ve linked Foote’s article — it’s the UL Athletic Network, with a logo at the top left that promotes “Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns.” That designation has been the center of the most recent firestorm. I believe, as does Foote, that the university has every right to the designation and (as every school does) to strive for greater prestige.

Everywhere I’ve lived outside of Louisiana, I’ve had a conversation or 20 that goes something like this:

“So, where did you go to college? LSU, I assume?”

“No, UL.”

“In Monroe?”

“No, the other one.”

“Louisiana Tech?”

“Not Louisiana Tech. The University of Louisiana-Lafayette.”

“Where’s that?”

“In Lafayette.”

“Is that by New Orleans?”

“It’s about 115 miles to the west.”

“So it is close.”

“Close enough.”

“You don’t sound like you’re from there. Are you sure you didn’t go to LSU?”

When the University of Southwestern Louisiana sought to change its name to the University of Louisiana, first in 1984 and again in 1999, it ran into considerable static from other state universities. LSU in particular hated the idea because it considered the change a threat to its official flagship status. That sentiment helped to successfully stall the ’84 effort (though not before that year’s degrees went out) and forced a compromise in ’99: that another state school would have to adopt the same name at the same time. This led to USL becoming the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Northeast Louisiana University adopting the name UL Monroe. Thus the specter of LSU being forgotten about forever vanished.

Both ULs had restrictions from both outside and within as to what names and abbreviations to use. Many of them were ridiculous and convoluted, and few of them worked outside of their respective city limits. UL Lafayette in particular had to wear its city name like an albatross, for its sin of attempting to cement its prestige as Louisiana’s second-largest university. Consequently, ESPN never knew what to call us anymore.

But then something happened. UL Monroe — a school that once had “Louisiana” on its helmet — decided to run with its regional name. ULM, unlike ULL, became official. Those letters were emblazoned on its athletic logos. This left “Louisiana” wide open for UL to claim as a sports moniker. Just like the Cajuns wanted in the first place and, significantly, are legally sporting on their uniforms.

ESPN — along with everyone else — should give the Ragin’ Cajuns the dignity that they deserve. No more “Lafayette,” “ULL,” “LAL” or whatever else they use either out of ignorance, confusion or political pressure — call the team what’s on their uniform. Just like everyone does with every other team.

Louisiana.

Because this is the conversation I want to start having:

“Where did you go to college?”

“The University of Louisiana.”

“Oh yeah, the Cajuns! I saw them on ESPN2 the other day. Awesome.”

Or, at the very least:

“Where did you go to college?”

“Louisiana.”

“LSU?”

“No, the University of Louisiana.”

“Ah, UL!”

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