In 1998, the Louisiana state legislature passed ACT 45, which prohibits state colleges and universities from using the “LA” acronym or the name “University of Louisiana” for “academic, public relations, athletic, as well as other purposes not specified.” Why in name of St. Gumbo would the Louisiana State Legislature be compelled to approve such a seemingly trivial piece of law?
Mostly because of a heated moniker brouhaha between Northeast Louisiana University and Southwestern Louisiana University.
The universe would come to know these universities as UL-Monroe and UL-Lafayette, a concession created by ACT 45 to keep the peace when Southwestern Louisiana attempted to change its name to the University of Louisiana in 1995. The law required that if any institution of higher learning was to use “University of Louisiana,” it would have to follow the moniker with its geographic location. It was a banner day for em dashes. Case closed.
Except a concession by the Sun Belt Conference last November changed everything.
“The controversy will not end until Jesus comes again.”
The latest chapter in the ULM/ULL branding battle is outlined in an amazing story from The New Star. If you’re a fan of the Cajuns, Warhawks or the Sun Belt, Adam Hunsucker‘s piece is required reading.
Those who follow the Sun Belt are well aware of the spat between the two programs. The mere idea that UL-Lafayette would commandeer “University of Louisiana” is a pompous slap to the jaw. The name clearly implies superiority, as if ULL were not a mere part of a state system of schools that includes (among others) Louisiana Tech, Grambling, Nicholls and the University of New Orleans. The name implies that it is THE school of Louisiana. (Imagine how Georgia State would feel if Georgia Southern started calling itself Georgia Super Prime.) That’s just outrageous! The passion is underscored by the above subhead, a quote from a former ULM president, Dwight Vines.
But ever since the 1998 law landed in the books, UL-Lafayette has prodded and poked its way around the statute, often referring to itself simply as “Louisiana” (which is not banned by ACT 45). ULM alumni and university officials were not amused. Nick Bruno made the following statement in 2013:
“The biggest thing, irritation [for alumni] is when they see something in print or on the news that calls Lafayette ‘UL’ or ‘The University of Louisiana. As far as the name on the jersey — Louisiana — it is a very serious matter to a lot of people.”
Still, simply calling itself “Louisiana” is within the parameters of the law, and ULM doesn’t really have a legal leg to stand on.
Enter a reluctant Karl Benson
The inevitable tide of change pushed farther inland on November 22, when the Sun Belt released its reference guide.* Inside, what was formerly UL-Lafayette is now simply known as “Louisiana.” According to The New Star story, SBC Commissioner Karl Benson simply accepted ULL’s request with tied hands:
Benson told The News-Star on Nov. 30 that the Sun Belt doesn’t have jurisdiction over how a member institution wishes to be referred to and that any problems need to be solved by the respective schools or university system.
Punt! The move left ULM President Nick Bruno looking to spin the Sun Belt’s validation by implying that ULL was creating an “identity crisis” for its fans and that the name “doesn’t really provide an identity except for the state.” Sure, okay! In other words, Cajuns just cooked a poop sandwich, and the Warhawks have just got to eat it.
*A search of the Sun Belt website does not confirm these changes
Name changes aren’t new to the Sun Belt
UL-Lafayette isn’t the only program in the Sun Belt wrestling with its identity. Unlike ULL, UALR has embraced its host city, opting to become “UA Little Rock.” According to the urban university, “the (university’s) greatest strength is being located in the capital city of Arkansas. They want to highlight their partnership with Little Rock and its community service.”
Meanwhile, the Arkansas State Athletic Department has urged media to refer to the program as “A-State” rather than “ASU,” for a variety of reasons. The name has stuck with fans, but isn’t always honored by local, state and national media.