What are the front-of-mind stories for New Orleans sports fans today?
Let’s name a few: The Saints’ dominating performance against the Rams. LSU’s choice of Ed Orgeron as permanent head football coach. Perhaps even the marathon that is the state high school football championships beginning Friday.
If you polled 100 people on the street, how many of them could tell you that the two Division I schools in New Orleans, Tulane University and the University of New Orleans, are playing a men’s basketball game against each other Tuesday night at Lakefront Arena?
It’s not for lack of effort by UNO that you may not know about Tuesday’s game. (Full disclosure: They’ve advertised the game on SportsNOLA the last two weeks.) It’s simply this – in the minds of New Orleanians, college basketball is an afterthought until after football season is over.
Simply in terms of scheduling, there are two ways to make this game more visible, and as a result, more important.
First off, play it after Jan. 1. Wait … isn’t that when conference play has started? Sure is. But UNO plays in the Southland Conference, which has 13 teams, and Tulane plays in the American Athletic Conference, which has 11 teams.
Odd numbers of teams mean off dates in conference play. This season, UNO has just one league game in both the third week of January and the third week of February, while Tulane has one league game in the first week of January and the second week of February.
If the schools deem it important enough, put it on the schedule in January or February and ask the conferences for a little help in scheduling.
The last time these two schools played later than Jan. 1? The 1999-2000 season. Most years since then, the game was played before either school took a break for semester exams.
And if moving the game to later in the year doesn’t work, or even if it does, your second option – play the game on a Saturday night.
Tulane plays St. John’s at home this weekend, while UNO travels to Washington State. What if this game were being played on Saturday night instead of Tuesday? That would certainly provide an attendance boost.
Back in the good old days, Tulane and UNO used to play twice a season, home and home. In 1982-83, they couldn’t agree on two days, so they played just once – on a Saturday night in January, inside the Superdome.
The game went four overtimes. UNO won 75-71 in front of more than 10,000 fans. Both teams went on to the NIT that season.
Now, imagine the game becoming important enough again that it was regularly played inside the Smoothie King Center, and the turnstile count reached five figures.
As someone who’s been a fan of local college basketball for a long time, that would indeed be a great thing.