Football: Coronavirus has Cajun Field renovation project on pause
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, April 1, 2020
Planning for the start of a major renovation project at Cajun Field has been put on hold as UL deals with the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Ragin’ Cajuns athletic director Bryan Maggard suggested when asked this week.
The case is the same for efforts to fund the work at UL’s football stadium.
“I would just tell you right now: Certainly our fundraising plans exist; we’ve certainly hit pause on those, trying to be very understanding and patient with the current situation, knowing that everybody is adjusting to a new normal right now,” Maggard told The Daily Advertiser in a telephone interview.
The deadly pandemic has devastated the local and national economy, and Maggard’s department — like others throughout the world of college sports — has been hit especially hard.
Renovation plans at Cajun Field are on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: The Daily Advertiser)
In addition to losing out on its share of income from basketball’s canceled NCAA Tournament, and gate profits from the program’s successful baseball and nationally ranked softball programs, UL is looking at spending more than $250,000 to fund the cost of scholarships for spring sports seniors who have been granted an extra season of eligibility because their 2020 seasons were canceled.
UL’s baseball team finished the season ranked seventh in average paid home attendance nationally, and its softball team — which was ranked No. 1 in NCAA RPI ratings when the season was canceled in mid-March — was averaging a school-record 2,817 per game at Lamson Park.
The Cajuns still have not announced how or when they will issue refunds and/or credits for already paid tickets to canceled softball and baseball games.
Maggard said that will happen in “upcoming weeks.”
“We’re still finalizing plans in the business continuity aspect of that,” the Cajuns athletic director said.
Then there’s the stadium issue.
Last December, Maggard indicated UL would soon reveal long-awaited plans for renovation — costing between $45 million and $65 million — at aging Cajun Field.
Lagging attendance last season, he suggested at the time, would not adversely impact seating capacity plans at the redesigned stadium.
“If nothing more,” Maggard said at the time, “it just continues to motivate me.”
But now the coronavirus issue complicates matters.
“We … realize that the economy is not what it was two or three months ago,” Maggard said this week.
“So when we feel that time is appropriate, we will reconvene over discussions on that plan.”
But Maggard did say “there’s been no default on any type of pledge payments as of now.”
That, he added, leaves the Cajuns “again, hopeful that within a reasonable amount of time things will get back to normal and everybody can feel comfortable continuing their level of support.”
When that will be, however, is anyone’s best guess as stay-at-home orders remain in effect for most citizens of the United States.
Already canceled for coach Billy Napier's UL football team, which went 11-3 last season, is its spring game and most of its spring practices.
Sun Belt Conference Keith Gill said last week that athletic directors and presidents from member schools already are discussing contingency plans if the pandemic prompts a postponement, shortening or even cancellation of the upcoming 2020 season.
UL currently is scheduled to open Sept. 5 vs. McNeese at Cajun Field.
“Across America we’re having those discussions now,” Maggard said, “and really all we can do is anticipate scenarios.
“So the worst-case scenario is there would no football season. But I’m hopeful — very hopeful — that that’s not going to be the case. Then you start looking at abbreviated seasons.”
That’s when things really get complicated.
“But in order for the CFP (College Football Playoffs) to occur, you at least have to have the conference schedule (played),” Maggard said.
“And I think for most teams throughout the country, if we can start no later than early October we should be okay from a CFP standpoint.
“The schedules would have to adjusted, obviously,” Maggard added. “But I remain hopeful we can maybe get back to some level of normalcy come June, or July, and then we just need to make sure we work with the healthcare professionals within the industry to determine return-to-play … protocols so we’re not rushing our fall sports athletes into their play.”