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Football: Cajuns AD ‘would not be surprised’ at lighter football schedule after losing 2 more games

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Aug. 13, 2020

On Wednesday UL replaced its canceled non-conference home game against Wyoming of the Mountain West with a Sept. 12 game at nationally ranked Iowa State of the Big 12, but on Thursday the Ragin’ Cajuns lost two more non-conference games.

The Ragin’ Cajuns officially lost the Wyoming game, which has been planned for the same day, after the Mountain West decided late Monday to not play football this fall because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

On Thursday UL also officially lost its Sept. 5 season opener against McNeese of the FCS Southland Conference and its Oct. 24 game against FBS independent New Mexico State.

“We certainly knew these were probabilities,” UL athletic director Bryan Maggard told The Daily Advertiser on Thursday afternoon, “so it came as no surprise and we’ve been, in essence, starting to prepare for other options.”

Maggard said he has “conversations ongoing with other institutions to potentially back-fill those dates, but nothing is solidified.”

Related:UL loses second non-conference game amid COVID-1

When asked if Louisiana Tech remains one of those possibilities, as he had earlier indicated it was, he said, “a number of teams remain a possibility; it’s just going to depend on their willingness to play and/or how they want to try to develop their own schedules.”

Tulane, which has played UL in recent past seasons, is not realistically in the mix at this time, added Maggard, who was not certain if the Cajuns would be able to fill a full 12-game regular-season schedule.

“Right now I would say the goal is gonna be 12, but certainly I do not know how practical 12 is going to be at this point in time,” he said. “So, if we land somewhere at 10 or 11 I would not be surprised nor would I be disappointed. So we will just continue to plug away until we see what we can get to backfill as many vacancies as possible.”

As of now UL is at nine games.

The fact the Cajuns are coming off an 11-3 season and expect to be just as good if not better this season does not make it any easier to find opponents willing to step in.

Maggard called it “unfortunate” for McNeese and New Mexico State to not be able to play.

“This decision was not made lightly,” NMSU President John Floros said in a statement released by that school.

“It was particularly hard for many of us who like college sports, and want to see our Aggies play. But by putting the safety, health and well-being of our student-athletes, our coaches and our staff first, it became an easy decision to make.”

McNeese “has elected to suspend all intercollegiate sports competition for the fall semester with an intent to play in the spring,” the school said in a statement.

The Southland announced Thursday that it was postponing all conference fall sports, but also that “Institutions may choose to participate in limited fall competition.”

More:UL, Sun Belt Conference football teams can play complete schedule

Houston Baptist of the Southland has elected to play its scheduled game against Louisiana Tech, but McNeese opted to not play UL.

“After consulting with (McNeese president) Dr. (Daryl) Burckel and numerous medical professionals, we feel like this is the right decision,” McNeese interim athletic director Heath Schroyer said in a statement. “We are student-athlete centered and the health and safety of all of our student-athletes is first and foremost.” 

The Big 12, meanwhile, has decided it will play a nine-game conference schedule with one non-conference game per team, while the Sun Belt Conference — to which UL belongs — plans to play an eight-game league schedule with SBC teams permitted up to four non-conference games.

The meeting between the Cajuns and the Cyclones, who are ranked No. 25 in the Amway Coaches Poll, will be the first between the two programs and it will mark UL’s first game against a Big 12 opponent since it lost Sept. 7, 2013, at Kansas State.

The game will be the first of the season for Iowa State, which is not scheduled to open Big 12 play until Sept. 26 at TCU.

More:National college football magazines high on UL, Mitchell

The Cyclones lost previously scheduled non-conference games against South Dakota, Ball State and UNLV.

The game, based on what has been publicly released so far, is slated to be the first of the season for UL.

The Cajuns also earlier lost their scheduled Nov. 21 game at Missouri of the SEC, which is playing a 10-game conference-only schedule.

They have not yet named a make-up opponent for that date or for the dates of the McNeese and NMSU games.

UL was to have been paid $1.3 million for the game against Missouri, which according to Maggard has given formal notification it will not play. The Cajuns have not yet learned how much, if any, of the $1.3 million it will receive.

Financial terms of the contract for the Iowa State game call for the Cajuns to receive $350,000, The Daily Advertiser learned Thursday. It is a one-game-only contract.

UL had contracted to pay McNeese $225,000 for that game, according to terms of that deal.

According to terms of the contract between UL and McNeese, “Either Party failing to produce its team to play the scheduled game for reasons other than those stipulated in Article 11 shall pay the party not at fault the sum of $750,000 as reasonable and contemplated liquid damages, which sum shall be payable within one week of the scheduled game.”

More:Patience should pay for Ragin’ Cajuns speedster Smith

The default payment in the Wyoming game contract, which contains similar language, is $900,000.

The default terms, stated in what actually is Article 10 of both contracts, not Article 11, in both contracts say that, “This Agreement may be terminated by either the Home team or the Visiting team in the event it becomes impossible or impractical to play the game by reason of fire, floor, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, war, invasion, confiscation by order of the government, military of public authority or prohibitory or governmental authority, including that of either Party’s Conference or the National Collegiate Athletic Association.”

Language in the contract for another of UL’s canceled game at Missouri does specifically mention “epidemic” relative to a $1 million cancellation penalty, but in that case the Tigers’ conference has not canceled its own season.

The New Mexico State game, part of a two-game, calls for the visiting team (UL in the case of this season) to receive $150,000 with a cancellation default payment amount of just $150,000. It, like the McNeese and Wyoming games, also does not specifically mention “epidemic.” Both in those cases, the teams’ respective conferences did essentially cancel their fall seasons.

It is not known if UL will attempt to pursue damages, or if settlements are being negotiated, for any of the games its opponents canceled.

“I would just say that we will be in dialogue with those schools to see best paths to take to reconcile,” Maggard said.

More:SEC schedule decision could prove costly for the Cajuns

Related:UL players adamant about desire to play football season

All the changes present challenges for the Cajuns, who also lost 12 of their 15 spring practices to the coronavirus crisis.

“All of summer planning and offseason planning and research is in the place for the opponents that are left on our schedule, and that’s very much a fluid situation, right?” UL head coach Billy Napier said Wednesday, before several of the schedule changes were announced.

We continue to work hard on developing our 12-game schedule. … But I think there’s gonna be adjustment that comes with that, right? I think as we see some leagues bow out, and we see some leagues to make a commitment to continue to work toward playing, there will adjustment there, and certainly we’ll just set our sails and adjust to the wind as we go.”

Napier suggested he is encouraged by the prospects for actually playing this year.

“Much you like you hear out there,” he said, “as long as we can get a majority to play, you know, I think the Sun Belt Conference intends to play.”

More:COVID-19 concerns cloud start of UL preseason camp

UL’s addition of the Iowa State game comes as other Sun Belt teams also scramble to fill to their schedules with the Big Ten, Pac-12, MAC and Mountain West all deciding to not play in the fall.

Arkansas State announced it will visit Kansas State, Georgia Southern announced plans to play Army and on Wednesday Appalachian State (which lost all of its non-conference games) reportedly added Charlotte.

Arkansas State also has replaced Michigan with Central Arkansas, UL Monroe added Louisiana Tech (on Nov. 21) and Troy (which lost games against Tennessee and North Carolina State) plans to play Middle Tennessee twice this season. On Thursday, Troy also announced it has signed a home-and-home series that has it visiting BYU this season and playing host to the Cougars in 2026.

More:New Cajuns kicker Snyder didn’t need a visit to pick UL