Longtime Cajuns-Cowboys basketball series in jeopardy
UL’s basketball game against McNeese on Saturday night at the Cajundome marks the 95th between the two longtime rivals located not far across Interstate 10 from each other.
It may be a long while, however, before the count ever makes it to 100.
The series between the two, it seems, is in jeopardy.
“This could be the last time we play McNeese,” UL coach Bob Marlin said. “They’ve chosen not to continue this format.”
The Cajuns-Cowboys men’s series — according to UL records — started with McNeese winning 68-64 back on Dec. 14, 1951, in Lafayette.
The only opponent UL has played more times than McNeese is Louisiana Tech.
Asked why the series is in jeopardy, the Cajuns indicated the ball is in McNeese’s court.
“Their conference (the Southland) is going to 20 (league) games,” UL athletic director Bryan Maggard said, “and then I know they’re needing to, I think, schedule four money games.”
A common practice in college basketball today, lower-level schools often are paid big bucks to travel and play on the home court of higher-level opponents — a nice way to boost any team’s and athletic department’s fiscal budget.
When UL has played host to McNeese, however, it’s not a money game.
Rather, it’s been played as a home-and-home every season since early this decade – the ‘format’ Marlin referenced.
“I think they are going to look to make up the difference in non-DI (NCAA Division I) opponents,” Maggard said. “So it’s quite likely we may not be doing home-and-homes with them in the future.”
Matthew Bonnette, McNeese’s longtime assistant athletic director/sports information director, indicated he had no first-hand knowledge of the Cowboys’ future scheduling plans with the Cajuns.
But he does seem to be a big fan of the series.
“Obviously if it’s true it’s unfortunate,” Bonnette said, “because it’s a great inter-regional rivalry that’s been going on since the ’50s.”
UL leads the all-time series 59-35, with the Sun Belt Conference-member Cajuns having won four straight and five of the last six prior to Saturday night.
The two teams have played one game every season since 1998-99, always in either November or December during that stretch.
They did not meet for six straight seasons from 1992-93 through 1997-98.
But prior to that there often were times the two schools, located about 75 miles part, played twice a season.
From the 1950s through the 1980s, they played at least 16 times each decade, including time when both were in the Gulf States Conference and both were in the Southland together.
Ties between the two programs are plentiful.
Current Cajuns women's basketball coach Garry Brodhead was associate head coach at McNeese before coming to UL, and Tony Robichaux, who was UL's baseball coach for 25 seasons before passing away earlier this year, previously was McNeese's head coach.
UL’s and McNeese’s football teams also have met frequently over the years, most recently in a 2016 non-conference game, and their other sports programs compete regularly too.
In 2020, the Cajuns are scheduled to open their football season against the Cowboys.
Whether or not the men’s basketball series continues, or when it may resume, remains uncertain for now.
At least some, though, seem hopeful that someday it will — and the sooner the better.
“That will be something we continue to work on,” UL’s Marlin said.
“It’s a rivalry I think a lot of people would love to see continue,” McNeese’s Bonnette added. “It’s a rivalry in the best interest of everybody.”