We build sports to build a University; we build a University to build a community. Tailgating is an opportunity to strengthen those relationships.

This week will mark UL's first home football game of the school year. Which means much more than just football.

It means tailgating. And I love tailgating.

I suspect that tailgating began years ago, in parts of the country where there wasn't much to do on a weekend, and people just couldn't wait for the week's big event-- the football game. So, they started showing up early at the stadium to visit with family and friends, to gossip, to talk football, and generally just to get themselves geeked up about the game.

Anyone who has read my comments for very long knows that I have repeatedly asserted that we build athletics in order to build a university. And we build a university in order to build a community.

That, of course, is not always the case. For that matter, I'm not sure it's often the case. In many places, the community (or even the entire state) is seen as little more than a vehicle for building a university. And the university exists-- outside of graduating a few doctors, lawyers & engineers, and offering some agricultural advice to the farmers-- to provide the tailgaters with a football team.

Correction: a good football team.

For me, however, the community's the goal. Perhaps that's why I frequently enjoy the tailgating more than the game itself... although after 30 years of Cajuns' football, that may not be entirely unexpected.

That aside, the beauty of our culture here is our very strong sense of community. The Cajuns, Creoles, and multitude of other cultures here (don't forget the Lebanese), are widely seen as some of the most hospitable tailgaters in the entire US. Certainly many visiting fans gush about how warmly they were received (and how well they were fed) when they visited. It's what we do very well here, build community. In fact, we may build community better than anyone in the world.

One of the strongest manifestations of our community is when we host the world at our many festivals. I consider tailgating a kind of festival: the community gets together outside, on a hot Fall day (they say "crisp" up north... I wonder what we've been missing?) to eat, to drink, to visit, and to relax... well, that's just hard to beat.

That's community.

But if we do all of this sports stuff to build a University and a community, and if we love to get together and have a good time, then why do we only tailgate for sporting events? Why don't we get together and tailgate for the opening of a University play, or a concert? The dedication of a new building on campus? For graduations?

For that matter, why couldn't we specifically design light academic events as an excuse to get together and tailgate? Some years back, the Deep South Writers' Conference at UL was renamed the Deep South Festival of Writers, with the hope of drawing in the general public. The Festival has gone AWOL the last few years, but some of us have hopes of bringing it back. Obviously, we all like to read, or we wouldn't be here reading about UL. So imagine a huge tailgating event, built around books, authors and writing. Could be fun.

Until then, however, the UL Honors Program is working on something interesting. They will be setting up under the Eauque™ (oak) on Bertrand to bring a new idea, Academic Tailgating, to Cajun Field. The idea is to bring in some light academics-- popular lectures, public performances, technical demonstrations, things like that-- to the tailgating environment. The hope is that these activities will reinforce the athletics-university-community tandem.

Because of the hurricanes, the event this week will be mostly a get-together of Honors students, some faculty, maybe a few of the Honors alums (such as Yours Truly). Later in the season, the students want to start bringing in some light academic activities.

I've been talking to people about this idea, and UL fans seem receptive. The Krewe de Chew gets together occasionally in the off-season, and they have invited in UL faculty to talk about their research and other initiatives, and how it impacts us all. Other tailgating groups have expressed interest in focusing more on UL's academic side as well.

As I thought about this, I have come up with some ideas about how we could build on this idea. But then, I thought we should just see what happens first. If this takes off, it will grow organically: fans will contact different faculty and departments, student organizations will contribute their time & energies, and the alumni will become involved. People will share their thoughts, and from our great community of scholars, ideas will sprout, grow, and become refined.

And as all of that is happening, our community will become more and more aware of just why UL is so critical to our economy, our culture, and our quality of life here in Louisiana.