Ragin' Cajuns basketball scheduling a mess already due to cancellations

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

There was a time UL basketball coach Bob Marlin considered the Ragin' Cajuns 2020-21 non-conference schedule ideal, especially considering the circumstances.

It sure doesn’t seem so anymore, especially after UL on Wednesday had its third would-be 2020-21 season-opener canceled.

The Cajuns announced their game Saturday night against Loyola-New Orleans will not be played, according to a statement from UL, “due to positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing within the Wolf Pack basketball program.”

The Cajuns now are scheduled to open Wednesday against Southland Conference member UNO in New Orleans. Their new first home game is Dec. 8 against NAIA member LSU Alexandria.

So it goes in an era where COVID-19 has curtailed much travel and thrown norm out the window.

The Cajuns also lost a visit to Texas that would have been their opener, because the NCAA delayed the start of the season. They lost a later trip to Southern Miss. And they lost another would-be opener at home last Wednesday night against Xavier-New Orleans, a game canceled, according to UL, because of virus issues in the Xavier program.

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UL now is down to three non-conference home games before its Jan. 1 Sun Belt Conference opener against Texas State: the game with LSU Alexandria along with against Louisiana Tech (Dec. 12) and New Orleans (Dec. 15).

Before losing the Loyola-New Orleans game in addition to the Xavier-Louisiana, Marlin tried to look at the bright side.

“It worked out that if we’re gonna stay at home and play that we got some local teams to come,” he said a while back. “I like the fact (we) don’t have to travel (much). To me, it’s the perfect scenario.”

Suddenly, it all seems anything but.

The Cajuns’ only non-conference road games are the one at UNO and another Dec. 18 at Virginia Commonwealth. The VCU game will involve UL’s only regular-season plane travel, a nod to COVID-19 concerns.

Why even take that risk?

“That game was scheduled, and our administration wanted us to go ahead and play it,” Marlin said when asked. “That’s a guarantee game, obviously – a buy game.”

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It was an intriguing idea

Shortly after the pandemic hit hard in mid-March and teams started rearranging schedules, Marlin started contemplating pros and cons of being in a bubble.

It would entail traveling to a site where multiple games are played over an extended time period and movement by players, coaches, staffers, organizers and event workers is substantially limited to combat spread of the virus.

At the time, national media reports suggested the Cajuns could be considered for a possible one in a locale like Houston – hypothetically including other programs like Stephen F. Austin, Texas-San Antonio, Texas A&M, LSU and host Houston.

Cedric Russell, Mylik Wilson, Bob Marlin and the Ragin' Cajuns are scheduled to play six non-conference games this season, including four at the Cajundome.

“The opportunity to play, I think, would be good if we get to that,” Marlin said in August. “We could go to a certain place. But the biggest concern for me in that was class.”

Ditto for any notion of Sun Belt play in a bubble.

“When I first started reading those,” Marlin said then, “it was like, ‘You’re gonna be gone from Jan. 1 until March whatever.’ … But it would be interesting to see.

“One thing about our sport: It’s indoors, which could be good or bad, I’m not really sure. But it’s come across well with the NBA at Lake Buena Vista (Florida).”

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Bubble idea burst

UL also lost out on multi-team event play it was to have had at home when the scheduling started to change.

Elsewhere around the country, it is no surprise programs have been dropping out of MTEs left and right because of COVID issues.

Bubble play for the Cajuns perhaps could have been a possibility if it turned out all classes would be held virtually, online via Zoom, rather than having some in-person instruction. But by late September, if not much sooner, Marlin had soured on the idea.

Meanwhile the Sun Belt went with a division-only, limited travel format in which the same two games play on a Friday and again the next day.

And last week the Cajuns coach said UL never was propositioned to play in a non-conference bubble event anyway.

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Staying mostly at home instead helps cut costs, and it makes it safer not only for players but also coaches staff members concerned about contracting the virus.

That’s a hard-hitting reality at UL, whose No. 24 football team had last Saturday’s game against Central Arkansas canceled because of significant COVID-19 issues within the program including a positive test for coach Billy Napier.

“We’ve talked about it constantly, and as the last week has come upon we talked about it even more so to make sure we talked about seven eight months ago, and that’s, ‘Wash your hands, social distance, wear your mask,’ ” Marlin said.

“We’d rather play at home than away,” he added, “and just eliminate as much travel as possible.”

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