STILLWATER — Mike Gundy immediately knew he had made a mistake.
During the opening statement of his Monday press conference, the Oklahoma State coach said his staff had begun watching film on the Cowboys' next opponent. He called the school “Lafayette.”
“As soon as I said it, I knew I messed up,” Gundy said. “That's the first thing that came to my mind. I didn't want to say ULL, because it's a tongue twister, so I just fired ‘Lafayette' off.”
Actually, calling the school “ULL” would not have pleased the folks in Louisiana, either.
Yes, the name of the school that comes to Stillwater this Saturday is the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. But in recent years, it has started to call its athletic teams “Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns” — and has asked others to do the same.
“It's not that we're changing from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette,” sports information director Brian McCann said. “That is the name of our school. It's just that in referring to our athletic programs, sometimes you want to simplify it so people understand.
“We just thought that if you go Louisiana-Lafayette, it kind of clutters things up a little bit. We just want something a little simpler, a little faster. That's why in keeping with the spirit from the state, ‘Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns' fits.”
Name changes over time are natural in the worlds of academia and athletics. Oklahoma A&M became Oklahoma State in the 1950s when the school wanted to show that it had broadened its curriculum. And its athletic nicknames have ranged from Aggies, Agriculturists and Tigers before the Cowboys. Gundy even remembers a time when some people on campus attempted to start a revolution to change the “OSU” abbreviation to “O State”
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has changed its name, too. Before 1999, the school was called Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute (1898-1921), Southwestern Louisiana Institute (1921-1960) and the University of Southwestern Louisiana (1960-1999). Though in the 1980s, the school did try to call itself the University of Louisiana before the state legislature nullified the change.
This recent attempted alternation isn't as dramatic, as McCann said there are no plans to go back to the state legislature to try to get the name of the school changed. The shortened name for athletics is similar to the version used by the University of Texas at Austin, which calls itself just “Texas,” or the University of California at Berkeley, which calls itself just “California” or “Cal,” when referring to its team names, despite being a part of a larger university system.
“The state says that anytime you refer to the university as the University of Louisiana, you have to put ‘at Lafayette' included in there,” said McCann, who also noted that the university's email system uses “louisiana.edu” rather than “ull.edu” or “louisiana-lafayette.edu.”
“But it doesn't touch on how to abbreviate the name, how to refer to ‘Ragin' Cajuns' or if you simply go by ‘Louisiana.' That's not included in anything from the state, so we're just working with the rule they gave us.”
Of course, there's another “Louisiana hyphen” school that plays Division I athletics and FBS football in Louisiana-Monroe, the squad that upset Arkansas last week. Attempts to reach that athletic department for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.
McCann cannot pinpoint when exactly the transition from Louisiana-Lafayette to Louisiana started to gain traction, but says it has been fan-driven for the past several years.
And some have already adopted the change. All of OSU's references to Saturday's opponent — game notes, athletic website, etc. — say “Louisiana.” Lafayette's newspaper, The Advertiser, calls the school “UL” on first reference.
But other public outlets continue to use “Louisiana-Lafayette.”
“(Fans have) blown up more than one announcer's Twitter account because of referring to the university as ‘ULL,' which is something that we don't like,” McCann said. “We prefer just ‘UL.' We're responding to our fan base.
“We just like to be referred to in a manner in which our fans and our students and our alumni are happy.”
To backtrack: the school OSU plays Saturday is not just “Lafayette” — that's a liberal arts college in Easton, Penn. It is technically still the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and there are no plans to try to change that school name soon. But when referring to athletic teams, the school prefers “Louisiana” or “UL.”
The safest bet? Just call them the Ragin' Cajuns.