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UL, Sun Belt Misfire on School Identification – From the Bird’s Nest

The news release came from the Sun Belt Conference just after 3pm Monday.  We’ve been waiting for it for nearly two years now.

But what came in the (e)mail was worse than a letter from the IRS.

The Conference released Monday a list of the schools in the conference and how they should be referenced. 

And, for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette the answer was not what the UL (no Lafayette) fan base was looking for.

The release says the first reference to the school should be UL-Lafayette.  This violates school policy as documented on their website.  The release says the proper shortened name is UL-L,  which again, violates school policy which states the name of the school should never be hyphenated in any form.

In addition, the release said the nickname of the school should be Ragin’ Cajuns.  That isn’t what the University asked for.  They had asked the nickname be “Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.

Tuesday evening, the league issued a revised release, saying the first reference should be UL Lafayette (no hyphen) and the nickname be “Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.”

I emailed Aaron Martin, director of marketing and communications at UL (I’m not using Lafayette…sue me.) and asked how the University came to the decisions that it did.

He explained as follows:

“Following the Sun Belt Conference meeting in May of last year, the SBC office requested that its member institutions complete a reference guide form, which was described as an attempt to improve how the SBC refers to institutions. This effort was partially driven by the inclusion of new members into the conference.

SBC institutions were asked to respond to the following questions:

(1)  Official Institutional Name

(2)  Nickname (i.e., Bulldogs)

(3)  Preferred Athletic Reference

(4)  Preferred Abbreviation (minimum two letters; maximum four letters)

(5)  Prohibited References or Abbreviations

 

UL Lafayette’s submission was as follows:

 

(1)  Official Institutional Name – University of Louisiana at Lafayette

(2)  Nickname – Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (shorter versions acceptable)

(3)  Preferred Athletic Reference – Ragin’ Cajuns

(4)  Preferred Abbreviation (minimum two letters; maximum four letters) – The University does not have a two to four letter abbreviation.

(5)  Prohibited References or Abbreviations – Please refer to the University’s name and nickname policy. Prohibited references and abbreviations include:  ULL, Lafayette, Laf., U of L, Lady Cajuns or Ragin’ Cajuns (without the apostrophe).

In mid-October, we were informed that the SBC did indeed require a two-to-four letter abbreviation, which would be used in “isolated instances.” The SBC office suggested that ULL would be used.

To the SBC’s suggestion that ULL would be used, our response was, “we have consistently rejected the reference to our University as ULL and request that our conference respect our wishes, policy and our board action by referring to us as UL Lafayette.”

The SBC insisted that an abbreviation needed to be submitted. Subsequently, we were informed that the NCAA needs this for individual player stats. For example, in the SBC guide, Arkansas State uses “A-St” only for statistical purposes and not as branding term or mark.

Faced with the choice of submitting UL, which would have been in violation of University of Louisiana System policy, or accepting ULL as an abbreviation, something the University has rejected for more than 15 years, we chose to submit UL-L for those isolated instances where an abbreviation was needed.

In the reference guide, Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Karl Benson stated that the document they produced is to be “used as a guide for consistency; the SBC cannot and will not mandate how its universities, media partners and outside entities use the guide.” Therefore, broadcasters can continue to refer to universities in the fashion to which they are accustomed. In our case, UL Lafayette, Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, Ragin’ Cajuns or any shortened version of these terms is acceptable.”

 

That explains how we got to this point. 

And to that, I have two comments:

First, to the university:  Why in the world would UL-L be used as an abbreviation?  If you needed two to four letters and UL was unacceptable, What about LA?  (LOU is used to identify Louisville.) The decision to use UL-L first of all violates its own university policy that says hyphens should never be used.  And secondly, everyone who reads it and everyone who says it is going to read and say WHAT??

That’s right.  The University just ULL’ed itself.

Now, to the conference:  According to Martin’s explanation, the abbreviated version was to be used in isolated instances; specifically for NCAA and SBC abbreviations for statistics.  The University made it very clear UL-L was only done for this reason.  But the league, in neither release, clarified that, saying that UL-L was an acceptable second reference.

That means you’ll probably see UL-L used in many news releases, game notes and newspaper articles.

For those who have been fighting the name fight since the day the name change was announced, this is a tough pill to swallow.

I know.  I’m one of those people.

Love me or hate me, I’m the one who was the first in the media to refer to the University’s athletic teams as “Louisiana.”  And, I took some heat from it from folks who aren’t fans of the Ragin’ Cajuns.  Didn’t stop me.  It hasn’t been an obsession.  But, for the last fourteen years plus, I’ve been consistent.  And, I’ve asked other broadcasters to do the same. 

Now, I didn’t take anyone by the throat and say they had to say it.  I didn’t dog cuss anyone who wouldn’t say it.  I have been adamant that ULL and Lafayette were unacceptable references and those in the electronic media have listened and tried to comply.

Now I guess, since ULL is unacceptable to the University, that UL dash L or UL Hyphen L is the route to go.  When broadcasters see UL-L as an acceptable secondary reference, ULL will be what comes out of their mouths.

To be sure, the Sun Belt said they weren’t mandating anything.  That’s unlike the previous commissioner who ULL’ed this school to the vomitorium.  But they are making the suggestion…and for those who embraced Louisiana, now it’s being suggested they change.

What many don’t realize is the progress that had been made.  Almost all non-conference opponents, in word and print, used “Louisiana” to identify the Cajuns.  Now it’s being “suggested” they use UL Lafayette.  About half the conference membership was using Louisiana as well. 

Neither ESPN nor the Sun Belt Network were using Louisiana.  But Fox Sports was.  So was CBS Sports 1.  That’s probably out the window now.

The conference was careful  to say it wasn’t a mandate.  But the release was worded as though they were requesting it be done this way.  And, many schools, especially those around the state, will be more than happy to comply.

People will read UL-L.  And they will think and say ULL.  And, with that, the university has just undone what they’ve been trying to do for the better part of fifteen years…to avoid being ULL.

It’s very disappointing that, throughout the last few months, the administration has not communicated with the fan base concerning the schools branding wishes for athletics.  It is equally disturbing that, with exception of Martin, no one will speak on the record concerning the latest.  The lack of communication has rankled the fan base as much as the decisions have.

Regardless of the final conclusion, the actions of the school and the conference have severely damaged the fans’ (and the University’s ) desire to be branded  “Louisiana” for athletics.

That hurts.

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