There has been some encouraging news from the University of New Orleans after several difficult years. The switch from Louisiana State University rule to the University of Louisiana System is positive. Also, now there’s a new president with renewed enthusiasm. Whereas UNO could have never been treated as an equal to LSU, in theory under the ULL plan all the universities are equal – as they should be. But for UNO there will be one exception. The local university will be the inferior to all schools in the system in intercollegiate sports.
Two years ago, UNO downgraded from Division 1 to Division 3, a move that makes sports less costly because of fewer scholarships, but that’s deadly to a campus’ sports life. We opposed the switch at the time, though we understood the economic realities of a troubled university. Now the situation is different. The new affiliation can create some natural in-state rivals including Southeastern University, Nicholls University and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. As it stands now, UNO will be playing at a competitive level that’s inferior to all of those schools. In the context of college sports, UNO moved from the big leagues to the minors.
We know, we know: Academics is more important than sports. But it would be naïve to think that sports isn’t important as a source for publicizing a university, establishing an identity and attracting students. There are many academically excellent universities in the country that we would hear less about were it not for their teams.
Reversing the sports downgrade will require understanding from the NCAA, the blessing of the University of Louisiana System and the commitment of an active alumni base. First, though, the new UNO administration has to back the idea.
Since UNO doesn’t have football, the upgrade would be less expensive, but nevertheless a challenge. For the sake of pride, let’s again make UNO a major player on the field as well as in the classroom. Bring back Privateer pride.