Centenary move for football should be shot across the bow for UNO
And then there was one.
Louisiana has many universities, not counting the junior college institutions in the state.
Of those, there are now 13 NCAA members that play football or plan to do so, with the big announcement Wednesday from Centenary that the Gents plan to field a football program for the first time in over 70 years by the year 2024.
Participating in the most important, most attended and biggest financial generating sport on the gridiron are Grambling, Louisiana (Lafayette), Louisiana College, Louisiana Tech, LSU, McNeese, Nicholls, Northwestern State, Southeastern Louisiana, Southern, Tulane, ULM and now Centenary, which has already raised well over $1 million toward putting football back on the field.
While the cost of football is substantial, 13 institutions in Louisiana have found a way to make it happen.
Centenary has an enrollment listed at nearly 2,700.
NAIA members Loyola, Dillard and Xavier do not field football teams. SUNO shut down their athletics program.
The Division I school which is obvious in its omission from the football family in this state is the one bearing the name of the most important city in the state, the one with two major league sports franchises.
According to the school, the University of New Orleans most recently lists an enrollment of just over 8,300, down from about 17,000 prior to Hurricane Katrina.
Unlike virtually every other university in the region, UNO simply did not fully recover from that devastating storm, for whatever reasons.
Still, it is the school which carries the name of a prominent city and produces more locals working within the area’s economy than any other school in the city.
In a metropolitan area that loves football and has a host of good high school football programs, UNO is a natural fit to field a college football team.
While club football has existed previously at the school, there has never been a serious attempt to create and fund a football program.
In truth, the University of New Orleans faces a tough sell in athletics.
Tim Duncan, the current UNO Director of Athletics, is attempting to create more of an interest level where there was once solid support decades ago under Ron Maestri’s direction in baseball and basketball.
Maestri built a College World Series baseball program with excellent attendance over many years which continued under Tom Schwaner. Randy Bush followed with one very good year and Tom Walter did a splendid job for several seasons. Blake Dean recently signed a contract extension as he works hard to build the Privateers back into an NCAA tournament-level baseball team.
Ron Greene created an outstanding basketball program, and the likes of Benny Dees, Tim Floyd and Tic Price followed with great success. Joey Stiebing, Monte Towe and Mark Slessinger have worked since then to keep the men’s hoops program competitive but the interest level clearly topped out under Floyd. The Privateers maintained a solid level into the late 1990’s before a steady decline since then.
Maestri Field at Privateer Park is a capable facility by Southland Conference standards. Upgrades are needed.
Having the baseball stadium field named after Maestri was my primary initiative upon my return to the university’s athletic department as a senior administrator from 2001-06 after having broadcast games on radio and television over a period extending from 1982-1994.
That remains one of the accomplishments from which I derive the most pleasure in my professional career.
Lakefront Arena, although without modern suite and corporate level amenities, remains a quality facility for basketball.
To make football happen at the University of New Orleans, it will require a major commitment from the university and a financial support from major donors to jump-start the concept. This was the case at Southeastern Louisiana when the school revived its program. Centenary will need the same for its new revival plan.
To make it happen will be difficult but it can certainly be done.
If UNO wants to remain viable in athletics in both the near term and for years to come, a real plan to create an NCAA football program should be part of any and all discussions.
- < PREV Nia Washington of Country Day signs with Tulane women's volleyball
- NEXT > Pelicans assign Didi Louzada, transfer Jose Alvarado to Birmingham Squadron
Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…