The University of Louisiana at Identity Controversy
The official name of the university in Lafayette, Louisiana is the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, though you wouldn't know it by hanging around their football program.
Louisiana state law mandates that one of the Louisiana's directional schools could change their name to "the University of Louisiana" as long as: A) they added their municipality following the name, and B) another school joined along. So in 1999, the Northeast Louisiana University and the University of Southwest Louisiana together changed their respective names to the University of Louisiana at Monroe and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
The "at ___" was very important, law makers wrote at the time, because Louisiana already has one flagship school in Baton Rouge.
In the decade and a half since, the universities in Monroe and Lafayette have attempted to brand themselves in an effort to stand out and differentiate themselves from one another. Louisiana-Monroe has become more commonly known as ULM, and Louisiana-Lafayette has become just Louisiana. As long as you ask them, at least.
“It’s not on any official documents, but for the school to allow the football team to use it, that’s as official as it gets,” state Sen. Mike Walsworth told the NewsStar.com. “That’s the face of the university, anyway.”
Check the Ragin' Cajuns game notes and you'll find the this message: “WE ARE LOUISIANA: There is confusion among the national sports organizations as how to refer to the Ragin’ Cajuns. Our official name is the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, but much like our opponents around the country, we simply go by Louisiana when referring to our athletic programs. It is the same situation as the Universities of Texas (at Austin), Tennessee (at Knoxville) and California (at Berkeley), but years of use and understanding by the sports media has led to each of those schools to have their athletic monikers being simplified and accepted nationally.”
The difference between Texas, Tennessee, California and Louisiana is, again, that school in Baton Rouge.
As Mark Hudspeth's football team continues to win - 23-10 over the past three seasons, 5-2 this season - the Cajuns' identity gets closer and closer to a boiling point on both sides.
Refer to the Cajuns' as anything other than Louisiana or UL and their school and its fans will notify you of their displeasure. ESPN, broadcaster of Cajuns wins on the last two Tuesday nights, has referred to the school on air as Louisiana-Lafayette and in graphics as "UL Lafayette", which has left play-by-play announcer Joe Davis to defend the practice on Twitter to angry Cajuns fans.
On the other side, there's the university in Monroe. “I feel (ULL president) Dr. (Joe) Savoie understands the issue is sensitive to our fans,” ULM president Nick Bruno said. “It’s actually offensive to our fans.”
“Nobody asks if we’re the state school, but we do get all the time, are you a branch of the University of Louisiana?," ULM head coach Todd Berry said. “I understand what they’ve tried to do. From what I understand its against state law to do it, but I guess it doesn’t go over to athletics. I guess their university doesn’t deal with the athletic program and they can do what they want.”
With two straight New Orleans Bowl wins and a great shot at the Sun Belt championship this season, the folks in Lafayette only grow more prideful over the team they call Louisiana. And, for the rest of Louisiana, it may be time to get involved.
“It’s a definite abuse, and it needs addressing,” state senator Francis Thompson, one of the bill's original authors, said. “The time may have come when the Louisiana board needs to address it. I may take this opportunity to talk to the board members about this and what’s going on down there in relation to this issue.”
The school in Lafayette and the school in Monroe are scheduled to play in Monroe on November 30.