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University stands firm in 1-A football plans

Bruce Brown • bbrown@theadvertiser.com • August 5, 2008

There are Ragin’ Cajun football fans who think UL should drop into the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division 1-AA.

They figure playing in the Southland Conference against former rivals McNeese State, Northwestern State, Southeastern Louisiana and Nicholls State makes more sense and would draw better home crowds than poor showings in Bowl Subdivision (Division 1-A).

Forget it. It’s not going to happen.

The Cajuns have never been a member of 1-AA, and they don’t intend to start now.

"There are several advantages to remaining in Division 1-A," Athletic Director David Walker said. "Our conference affiliation (Sun Belt Conference) allows us to have bigger NCAA shares in areas such as TV rights.

"In the formula by the Board of Regents, we are able to utilize more funds for scholarships than 1-AA programs.

"Look at college football game guarantees. They’re much higher in Division 1-A. 1-A members can only play a limited number of 1-AA schools, so we have higher guarantee totals."

Larger guarantees are just part of the financial picture, but they remain a significant part.

"It would cost us more money to be in Division 1-AA because you’re not going to get the big-game payoffs," said MidSouth Bank President Rusty Cloutier.

Walker said the difference would come to around $2 million less per year in our overall athletic budget if UL were to go to 1-AA.

That’s a large number in a $10 million athletic budget.

In 1982, when 1-AA was created, UL President Ray Authement made the decision to stay in the NCAA’s top division for football while schools like McNeese, Nicholls, SLU, Northwestern State and Northeast Louisiana (now UL Monroe) dropped down.

"It was extremely visionary at the time," Walker said. "Some in the state chose to go in the other direction. Dr. Authement’s understanding of the impact it would have on the university was extremely accurate."

In the 26 seasons beginning with that 1982 campaign, the Cajuns have a 115-172-2 overall record (a .400 percentage; 4.4 wins per year), have enjoyed just 10 winning seasons, had one .500 record of 6-6 in 2006 and earned a pair of shared conference titles in the Big West Conference in the 1990’s.

But the image of the university is that of a top-tier institution in all areas.

"I have friends at a bank in Boise, Idaho, and they said it’s unbelievable what Boise State’s win in a BCS bowl game did for their university," Cloutier said. "Athletics is the marketing arm of a university. Success there has a tremendous branding connotation.

"So, athletics is very valuable. Are we ever going to be Auburn, or LSU? Absolutely not. But, Boise, Hawaii, Southern Miss? That’s possible."

"Understand, I don’t think that (1-A instead of 1-AA) is the solution (by itself)," Walker said. "The solution is in continuing to upgrade facilities, recruiting and salaries to be at the 1-A level. If we make the choice the other way, it affects all our sports."

"Can a coach succeed in football at UL? No question, yes. We can succeed in any sport if you take the time and work hard. We have to be solid in what we do."

Money and prestige have prompted numerous schools to consider joining the upper division of college football. Sun Belt Conference member Western Kentucky, a successful Football Championship Subdivision program, is finally moving up.

"I’d like to point out that, if it wasn’t so attractive to go 1-A, we wouldn’t have a moratorium on making the move that we have now in the NCAA," Walker said. "They said it’s for no more than a period of four years."

By the numbers


Since 1982, when UL opted to remain in the NCAA’s highest division for football, the school is 115-172-2 with 10 winning seasons. Coaches’ records during that time: Sam Robertson, 4 years, 21-21-1; Nelson Stokley, 13 years, 62-80-1; Jerry Baldwin, three years, 6-27-0; and Rickey Bustle, six years, 26-44-0.