For years, Louisiana has been sand-bagged by the NCAA, our conferences, game officials, and now the bowls. Is there a conspiracy here?

Not all paranoids are crazy.

Louisiana was just snubbed by the bowls, where we were quite confident that we could get an invitation from at least one of them, maybe more than one. And it wasn't just wishful thinking on our part: almost every bowl projection in the media had the Ragin' Cajuns picked to go somewhere.

But come Monday morning, we were shut out. Not only were we shut out; UL finished second in the Conference, while FAU who was tied for third in the Sun Belt, and who needed a win over WKU (2-10)-- a team in limbo between 1A & 1AA-- to reach .500, leap-frogged the Cajuns to get into the Motor City Bowl. At the same time, in our own state the Shreveport Independence Bowl snubbed the Cajuns, instead taking a 4th place MAC team, Northern Illinois-- also needing a 1-AA win to get to 6-6-- when the Sun Belt Conference had been crowing all year that the SBC had first crack at the I-Bowl if the first guarantees didn't qualify. We had also been assured that our supporters in Houston could help us get into the bowl there.

Now? The Sun Belt Conference is tap-dancing like crazy. The Independence Bowl won't return phone calls. Powerful UL alumni in Houston have egg on their faces. And our fans are howling for someone's head.

Problem is, we can't figure out whose head. And there's the rub.

This isn't the first time the Cajuns have been short-changed (or maybe 'mugged' would be a better word). I am reading Slam Dunked by former Cajuns basketball coach Beryl Shipley with Ron Gomez, about the 1971-72 and 1972-73 Top 10 Cajuns basketball teams. The NCAA invented a punishment for UL that year, and awarded both Louisiana and Long Beach State the "Death Penalty"-- although it didn't even have that name yet, nor any name. But the upshot was, no intermural basketball was played at UL for two years.

As any such book must be, Slam Dunked presents only one side of the story. But Shipley and Gomez lay out a time-line, and cite numerous documents, that strongly suggest that the NCAA was somewhat less than interested in hearing what UL had to say, nor even in giving us adequate time to respond.

So we lost our Top 10 basketball team, and our first claim to national prominence.

Nothing seems to change, however. In 2005, the Cajuns men's basketball team had a stellar year, and our performance suggested that we warranted as high as an 8-seed in the NCAA Regional Tournaments. Astute observers doubted we would get that, but confidently predicted we would be a 10, or at worst an 11-seed. We were stunned to receive a 13-seed.

That is, we received a 13-seed on paper.

Because the NCAA then took Louisville-- widely predicted by the media to be a #1 seed, and who made the Final Four to back it up-- and put them as a #4 seed. Against Louisiana.

So in effect, the NCAA made UL a 16-seed. A 16-seed-- the slot reserved for the worst of the worst, the dregs who managed to win in the weakest Division 1 conferences in the land. That was our kids' reward for a stellar season.

But the Cajuns were up to the challenge. With 3:43 minutes to go in the game, UL was leading 55-54. Then the NCAA officials became very active. From that point on, the Cardinals went to the stripe 7 times for 15 shots-- about once every 30 seconds of game clock. In fact, L'ville made only one field goal in the last 5 1/2 minutes. But then, they didn't need field goals.

While the Cardinals went to the stripe 7 times for 15 shots, in that same stretch UL got 3 trips of their own for 6 tries.  Maybe the refs were trying to out-do one another at that point, because every time the Cajuns went to the stripe, within seconds the Cardinals did, too. But then again, maybe that was just coincidence.  When the officials are handing you freebies every 30 seconds, there won't be much time-lag between a free throw and anything that is going on anywhere in the universe.

After the game, even some Cardinal fans were admitting that the officials handed the game to Louisville.

But it didn't end there. Responding to a good-faith mistake made by UL on a player's transcript, the NCAA proceeded to void our tournament appearance altogether. Maybe they wanted to erase any record of the fiasco; as Tom Lehrer once quipped, "If something I say offends you, I will not only retract it.

"I will deny having ever said it."

We've had recurrent problems with officiating in our previous NCAA men's hoops appearances. For instance, in 2000 UL faced Tennessee in the opening round, and were threatening to hand the Vols their bright orange hats. With 45 seconds to go, UL was clawing back into the game and cut the UT lead to 2 points.

At that point, the officials-- who over the course of the game awarded the Vols 29 free throws, but let UL take only 8-- proceeded to send the Orange to the stripe for more chances.

A foul that The New York Times called "questionable" sent UT back to the line. The Vols missed the front end of a one-and-one, but the Times notes that "the Cajuns claimed a referee was talking to them during the shot and distracted them from going after the rebound."

Sports Illustrated was not so charitable as the NY Times, and suggested it was a "phantom foul call."  The SI article then goes on to note that immediately after that, on yet another whistle on the Cajuns, even the UT player admitted there was no foul. He had simply slipped.

We've seen strange things with our other sports, as well. In 2004, Cajuns softball amassed an amazing 55-6 regular season tally and was ranked #9 in the country.  At that time, the NCAA had expanded the tournament to 64-teams, in an 8 team/8-regional format.  Based on the Cajuns' successes in previous seasons, some observers felt that we had an outside chance at hosting a regional, but more likely we would be a #2 seed.

We did not receive a #1 seed.  We did not receive a #2 seed.  We were not even a #3 or #4 seed. 

Louisiana received a #5 seed, relegating us to the bottom half of the 64 team field, ranking us among mediocre teams that had received automatic bids.  Worse, we were assigned to the Tucson regional, hosted by 6-time national champion Arizona, the team ranked #1 in the USA in both polls at the time.

The #2 seed was Oklahoma, who trailed UL in all of the polls, and behind the Sooners but ahead of the Cajuns, were two unranked teams.  The Tucson seeds looked like this:

Seed Team Record Nat'l Rankings
1 Arizona 53-4 #1, #1
2 Oklahoma  39-19-1 #20, #21
3 Northwestern 32-18  
4 South Carolina 27-22  
5 Louisiana 55-6 #9, #9
6 UC-Santa Barbara 32-29  
7 Temple 29-16  
8 Centenary 36-27  

Despite the insult, and despite the strength of the field, the Cajuns beat every team ranked ahead them at least once and even eliminated nationally top-ranked Arizona-- the first time the Wildcats failed to reach the WCWS in 17 years.

But the Cajuns' efforts in Tucson weren't quite enough. In such a top-heavy regional, the #2 seed OU dropped their first game to UL, but prevailed in the finals and advanced to the WCWS.  Nevertheless, our performance in Tucson proved once and for all that the Cajuns' low seeding had been a joke.

It's important to note here that the NCAA frequently tells "smaller" schools that they don't get at-large bids, or don't get high seedings, because they or their conference have not proven themselves in previous seaons.  Given our 2004 performance in the regionals, we had obviously overcome that stigma.  At the same time, the NCAA changed the tournament brackets, to a 4-team format distributed among 16 regional sites.  Given these facts, at the end of the regular season in 2005, with a #14 ranking and a 50-8 season, the Cajuns were all but guaranteed a high seed in the tournament, and clearly deserved to host a regional.

The NCAA, however, did not agree.  It did not award UL a regional host site.  It did not even seed UL as a #1 in some other regional, nor even a #2 seed.  The Cajuns were assigned the #3 seed in the Norman regional, again knocking us into the bottom half of a 64 team field.  Worse, UL had to visit the same OU team that had eliminated them the year before, and we were forced to open the tournament against #25 Oregon, out of the softball powerhouse Pac-10.  UL prevailed against Oregon, proving that our #3 seed was a sham, but fell again to the 10th-ranked Sooners on their own turf.

Just two years later, in 2007, the NCAA treated our baseball team similarly. At the end of the regular season, we were ranked #14 in the NCAA RPI. The NCAA committee awarded regional sites exactly from their own rankings*, #1 through #16 straight down the line-- with a lone exception.

UL was skipped over, and our regional was handed to #20 Wichita State. Little Coastal Carolina, the tiny University of San Diego-- both of whom were quickly eliminated from the tournament-- they got regionals. But UL, who merited a regional by the NCAA's own published standards, after a very strong season, with a tremendous baseball tradition, and some of the best attendance figures in the country, was snubbed.  Not only UL, but the entire state was snubbed.  Within the state of Louisiana, our colleges had hosted one, or occasionally two regionals consecutively from 1990 to 2005.  But in 2007, UL became the #2 seed in College Station, hosted by powerful #6 nationally ranked Texas A&M.  Even given that grossly unfair draw the Cajuns made it to the finals, defeating A&M before dropping two straight to the Aggies.

That is only a small sample.  These sorts of things happen to UL perennially, and they don't stop there.  At times, we saw blatant partiality against UL from the Southland Conference, and we have often suspected that something is odoriferous with the Sun Belt.  We have also seen these sorts of shenanigans from the state Legislature, and from other schools in Louisiana (in particular, two of them look very suspicious regarding the current bowl selections). Strange things have also happened with academic review committees, both those awarding grants, and those evaluating our degree programs.

And now, we are looking at patent dishonesty from the bowl committees.

These improprieties hurt us.  They hurt Louisiana, Acadiana, Lafayette, and UL.  This constant sabotage holds us back, it keeps us from growing, it keeps us from excelling.  So what's going on here? Is there a conspiracy to keep UL down?

It seems hard to imagine. Who has the clout to influence the NCAA committees, the NCAA officials, two different conferences, the bowls, the Legislature, and even academicians from across the country? And even if someone had that much influence-- why would they waste their time on little ol' UL??

I've been mulling that over (OK, I admit it) for years. When you see a pattern with no clear unifying motivator, it's just puzzling. And over the past few days, I think I have finally figured it out. There isn't a conspiracy.  But there is one constant.

And the constant is us.

Under the previous administration, UL's strategy was "If we work hard and produce, we will be rewarded." To be fair, it wasn't entirely a failure. UL has accomplished amazing things in 35 years.  But the problem was whenever we got the shaft, we never complained. So, while we were competitive-- often, highly competitive-- on the arena, off the sand we were doormats.

Everyone quickly learned that you could screw the Ragin' Cajuns to the wall-- in sports, in government, in research grants, in the media-- and no one, not a single person, would ever complain.

So we march onto the field of play, chests full, heads high, we compete, and we win. But the rest of the time, we're the sniveling weakling in the corner that everyone despises, the cur that everyone curses, the object that everyone objects to.

To be fair, that "Work ⇒ reward" model has a not-so-obvious benefit: because UL didn't call on help from powerful parties to come to our defense, we currently enjoy a degree of administrative autonomy that very few schools can claim. We don't need to look beyond Louisiana and our neighboring states to find frightening examples of berserk alumni, who not only meddle in athletics, but interfere with the administration, academics, and even with undergraduate organizations. In those schools, powerful alumni and supporters frequently make a mockery of everything a University stands for, and is.  So it's not all bad.

Anyway, that's my take. We get abused, because we just sit and take it.  If I'm right, then what's a fan to do?

Well, I think our Legislators are off to a very good start. Senator Mike Michot et cie. are leading the way. We need to stand up, and start demanding our due. We need to use eMail, and phones, and blogs, and message boards, and letters-to-the-editor, and anything else available, to rally our troops, and keep this issue on the front burner.

For a long, long time.

We need our state and national elected officials to know that we want them to keep the pressure up. We need to make sure the taxpayers in Shreveport and Houston-- who help subsidize both bowls-- become aware that they just lost a huge economic boost to their economies. They need to know that UL would have easily brought 25,000 people to either bowl, 25,000 tourists who would have rented thousands of hotel rooms, and eaten tens of thousands of meals at restaurants.  Correction: tens of thousands of meals at good restaurants.  We're Cajuns & Creoles. We don't eat garbage.

We want people to know that if they don't treat the Ragin' Cajuns right, there's going to be hell to pay.  Pure d-hell.

'Course, it will be a while before people get used to the new UL.  Right now in the Shreveport Times, one writer is making outrageous claims, insulting our people and region.  You really can't blame the poor coullion.  Nobody likes it when the neighborhood whippin' dog gets big and starts baring his teeth.

Anyway, if we fans keep this issue alive, the nice thing is that it keeps political pressure off of our Administration. UL moves forward briskly, and our University officials don't end up beholden to the unfortunate elements that drag down other universities.

So let's make some noise. eMail UL friends & supporters, and invite them to read this article. Then let's all start complaining, to the media, to the politicians, and to our powerful supporters.  Because the fact is, there really hasn't been much "rage" here in Acadiana. Cajuns & Creoles are pretty laid-back people...  that is, until you reach our limit.  And I think we may just be there.

I think it's time that we started validating the 'raging' in 'Ragin' Cajuns'.

To view a list of local elected officials, click here.

*The NCAA RPI poll linked to in this article is the final RPI, after the CWS, and does not reflect the fact that regionals were awarded to 15 of the top 16 teams, in order.  The pre-tournament RPI reflecting this information could not be located in official sources, but from Ragin'Pagin' I found this data reflecting the pre-tournament RPI:
1 0.6385 Rice
2 0.6304 Vanderbilt
3 0.6289 Texas
4 0.6255 North Carolina
5 0.6193 Arizona State
6 0.6156 Coastal Carolina
7 0.6099 Florida State
8 0.6076 Long Beach State
9 0.6074 Texas A&M
10 0.6057 Virginia
11 0.6055 South Carolina
12 0.6031 San Diego
13 0.6011 Mississippi
14 0.6004 Louisiana
15 0.5948 Missouri
16 0.5948 Arkansas
17 0.5923 Miami Florida
18 0.5910 North Carolina State
19 0.5886 Clemson
20 0.5881 Wichita State