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Football: UL loses second non-conference game amid COVID-19

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Aug. 11, 2020

UL lost another of its 2020 opponents when the Mountain West, citing the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, decided late Monday to indefinitely postpone its fall sports including football.

The conference now hopes to perhaps play football in the spring.

The Ragin’ Cajuns had been scheduled to play host to Wyoming of the Mountain West on Sept. 12 as part of a two-game home-and-home series that also calls for UL to visit the Cowboys in 2026.

“The decision by the Mountain West Board of Directors to suspend the fall seasons was focused on the health and well-being of our student-athletes,” Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman said in a statement.

Whether or not UL can recoup lost potential profit from the game remains to be seen.

Related:UL players adamant about desire to play football season

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Because the series is a home-and-home, there are no guaranteed payments involved.

But according to terms of the contract between the two teams, “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 $900,000 as reasonable and contemplated liquid damages, which sum shall be payable within one week of the scheduled game.”

Furthermore, the contact states that “The terminating Party will be responsible to make effort to find a comparable opponent for the other Party.”

The default terms, stated in what actually is Article 10 of the contract, not Article 11, 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.”

While it does mention “Conference,” the article does not specifically mention epidemic or pandemic.

Language in the contract for another of UL’s original 2020 non-conference games – which previously had been scheduled for Nov. 21 at Missouri of the SEC – does specifically mention “epidemic” as a potential out for not paying a $1.3 appearance fee and a $1 million cancellation penalty.

Related:SEC schedule decision could prove costly for the Cajuns

It is not known if UL will attempt to pursue damages, or if a settlement is being negotiated, for either game.

Just how many games the Cajuns actually will play in 2020, meanwhile, remains to be seen.

The Sun Belt previously announced plans for an eight-game conference schedule, as usual, with teams permitted to play up to four non-conference games.

The league has not changed its stance since then, sending teams including the Cajuns scrambling to backfill their schedule as other programs and conferences cancel.

UL also lost its visit to Missouri when the SEC decided to go with a 10-game conference-only schedule.

Not having Wyoming and Missouri to play leaves the Cajuns with FCS Southland Conference member McNeese and FBS independent New Mexico State, a former member of the Sun Belt, as their only two original non-conference opponents for the season.

UL currently is scheduled to open against McNeese on Sept. 5 at Cajun Field and to visit New Mexico State on Oct. 24.

But McNeese postponed the start of its preseason camp late the last week and the Southland has not yet announced its plans for 2020, leaving the status of that game somewhat uncertain as well.

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

It’s one UL athletic director Bryan Maggard very much wants to play.     

“Certainly of all our (non-conference) games the McNeese game is one we absolutely want to play,” Maggard said after Missouri game was lost but before McNeese postponed its camp and the Mountain West shut down. “We want to play them all, don’t get me wrong.

“But just as far as a regional game, and an opponent within the UL System, that’s one that I think both schools really strongly desire to play.”

UL and McNeese both are part of the same system of nine distinctive colleges and universities from throughout Louisiana, a collection that also including fellow Sun Belt Conference member UL Monroe; Louisiana Tech of Conference USA; FCS members Nicholls, Northwestern State, Southeastern Louisiana of the Southland and Grambling of the SWAC; and non-football playing University of New Orleans.

In addition to replacing Missouri as an opponent, Maggard previously said the Cajuns would look for another game if Wyoming did not come to Lafayette.

“The goal is to play 12 games,” Maggard said last week, “but we can only do that if we have 12 teams to play and if the healthy and safety of student-athletes remains constant throughout the entire season.”

More:UL opens camp with three Cajuns out with major injuries

The selection of possible FBS fill-in 2020 regional opponents for the Cajuns is plentiful, although many of them already have started to schedule to replacement games.

Louisiana Tech, which according to the (Monroe) News Star paused practice Friday after five players tested positive for COVID-19, is now slated to play ULM on Nov. 21 – the same day UL was to have visited Missouri – in Shreveport.

The Bulldogs also replaced Prairie View A&M of the SWAC, which won’t play in the fall, with Houston Baptist of the Southland.

Southern Miss of the Southland, which lost games against Jackson State of the SWAC and SEC member Auburn, added games against South Alabama of the Sun Belt and Tulane of the American Athletic Conference.

Tulane, which lost games against Northwestern of the Big Ten and Mississippi State of the SEC, also scheduled a game with South Alabama.

Elsewhere, C-USA member Rice – located not far away in Houston – announced Monday that it would delay the start of its season until Sept. 26 due to coronavirus concerns.

Maggard previously said he could not sign contracts for replacement games until receiving formal notification of cancellations.

More:Patience should pay for Ragin’ Cajuns speedster Smith

That now includes the UL-Wyoming game, which seemed to have been in jeopardy even before Monday’s decision.  

Earlier this month the Mountain West had delayed its football season until late September and said its teams would play an eight-game conference schedule with two non-conference games, not the typical four.

“Since the start of the pandemic, our membership and staff have been working diligently to prepare for a fall sports season,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement.

“We were hopeful we could carefully and responsibly conduct competition as originally scheduled with essential protocols in place,” Thompson added. “However, numerous external factors and unknowns outside our control made this difficult decision necessary.”