If Louisiana Tech plays football this fall, the Bulldogs will need a new opponent for their home opener.
Tech’s scheduled game against Prairie View A&M on Sept. 19 was effectively canceled Monday afternoon. The Southwestern Athletic Conference announced it is moving football to the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tech athletic director Tommy McClelland released a statement shortly after acknowledging the SWAC’s decision and briefly addressing Tech’s next step.
“We are having conversations with some other programs about the possibility of filling that open slot on our home schedule,” McClelland said. “Just like in almost every aspect of our daily lives, these are unprecedented times in college athletics. But we remain committed to our student-athletes, coaches, support staff and fans as we figure out the new normal.”
Tech now has an open date on Sept. 19 in addition to the scheduled bye the week of Oct. 3. Although McClelland did not elaborate on how the Bulldogs would replace the lost game, either of those dates could reasonably be used.
Since Tech lost a home game against an FCS opponent, finding another FCS opponent would be the logical move. Without the SWAC as an option, the Southland Conference is the obvious first place to look.
Two Southland schools have openings Sept. 19. Central Arkansas has a bye, while Houston Baptist was scheduled to play Texas Southern, another SWAC school. Tech and UCA last played in 2011. The Bulldogs have never played HBU.
Tech could also use Oct. 3 for a replacement game, but that would mean an early bye week. Tech also wouldn’t have a home game in September for the first time since 2005. HBU is available that week, as well. Like Tech, the Huskies have a bye.
One other Southland team is available. Tech’s longtime rival Northwestern State was also scheduled to play PVAMU. Among the Southland options, this would likely be the most interesting to fans. The Bulldogs and Demons have played 79 times, most recently in 2014 and 2017. They are scheduled to meet in 2023.
If finding an FCS opponent doesn’t work, there are a few regional Group of Five teams Tech could contact.
Arkansas State was scheduled to play Michigan Sept. 19, but that game was canceled when the Big Ten decided to only play conference games. Tech and the Red Wolves played in the 2015 New Orleans Bowl, but otherwise last met in 1998. The two had played every year since 1970.
Three other regional schools have bye weeks Oct 3. Houston, Tulane, and Louisiana-Lafayette are all available. Tech has played the Cougars seven times and the Green Wave nine. The Ragin’ Cajuns stand as Tech’s most often played opponent. The Bulldogs have faced them 87 times dating back to 1910. The two last played in 2015 and are currently not scheduled to play again.
Houston’s game against Washington State and Tulane’s game against Northwestern were both canceled when the Pac-12 and Big Ten moved to conference-only seasons, meaning both have room to add a game. To date, the Cajuns are still scheduled to play 12 opponents, so the Cajuns won’t be an option unless one of their games is canceled. Wyoming and New Mexico State seem the most likely possibilities.
If Tech convinces an FBS team to travel to Ruston, it is likely a return trip to the opponent’s home would be scheduled for a future season.
Although there have been no reports suggesting Tech’s season opener against UNLV is in jeopardy, a cross-country flight could be something both sides reconsider. Should that game be canceled, Southland schools Nicholls State and Stephen F. Austin would be available Sep. 5. Should that happen, it would increase the likelihood of Tech playing a Group of Five opponent on one of the other two open dates. None of the regional Sun Belt or American Athletic schools have openings that day, but if Tech and UNLV cancel, ULM and Cal Poly could follow suit. That would present Tech and ULM a chance to play for the first time since 2000.
Tech has not publicly stated whether the game against PVAMU will be rescheduled for a later season, but McClelland didn’t rule out the possibility.
“Focused on this year for now,” McClelland said. “Never say never.”