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LSU-Texas camp war continues as Longhorns' Louisiana camp is canceled

The battle between Texas and LSU raged on as the Longhorns scheduled a camp at Belhaven University in multiple Louisiana locations before the Division III school canceled the event.

The satellite camp power struggle between Texas and LSU has swung back in the Tigers' favor as of late Tuesday evening. After several developments, LSU appears to have successfully boxed Texas out of Louisiana. Texas was scheduled to participate in a satellite camp hosted by Division III Belhaven University, first in Baton Rouge and then later in Hammond, La., on Thursday. By late Tuesday evening, Belhaven head coach Hal Mumme said political pressure from LSU ultimately led to the camp being canceled.

Belhaven’s camp—originally slated for BREC Memorial Stadium in Baton Rouge—appeared to be in danger early this week, as political pressure on a local high school coach threatened the stadium agreement. Belhaven coaches had linked up with Memorial Stadium officials, Mumme said, and agreed to pay them $500 for the use of the stadium to host the camp. But Louisiana political forces managed to end that planned camp. After Mumme signed the initial deal, he got a call from an assistant superintendent in Baton Rouge, who invoked a loophole in the paperwork that forced Belhaven to move the camp from BREC Memorial Stadium.

Mumme, the former coach at Kentucky, confirmed to Sports Illustrated early Tuesday evening that Belhaven then signed an agreement to host the camp at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School in Hammond. The eleventh-hour change to Saint Thomas was welcomed because one of Mumme's former players at Southeastern Louisiana, Hutch Gonzales, is the school's head coach. But hours after that second agreement, school administrators in Hammond succumbed to pressure from LSU. Mumme said the canceled camp will cost cash-strapped Belhaven, which is located in Jackson, Miss., $5,000.

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This marks the third announced camp in Louisiana that Texas was scheduled to take part in. And it’s the third camp that LSU has worked hard behind the scenes to prevent from happening. In a phone interview earlier on Tuesday, the local high school coach who initially helped facilitate the field for the Baton Rouge camp expressed pessimism about it happening. “We're in LSU's backyard,” said Mike Roach, the coach at Madison Prep in Baton Rouge and the father of Texas player Malcolm Roach. “Louisiana home cooking may have played a part in it.”​ Roach, who initially tried to help facilitate the camp, declined to go into details on what LSU may have done to attempt to prevent the camp from being held at Memorial Stadium. But his comments proved to be prescient.

After camps affiliated with Texas got canceled at Louisiana College and Southeastern Louisiana in the past few weeks, Mumme acknowledged on Tuesday afternoon there was still a chance LSU or political officials in the state would attempt to thwart Texas’s presence. “Oh yeah,” Mumme said. “But it’s only a day away now. I don’t think there’s a lot they can do. The only thing that can kill it is if it rains.”

He was wrong. The canceled camp late Tuesday marks the latest maneuvering in a cat-and-mouse game between two of the highest profile programs in college football. LSU coach Ed Orgeron has denied the general perception that LSU’s influence in the state has forced the camps affiliated with Texas to be canceled. But he adamantly told Sports Illustrated last month: “Protecting the state of Louisiana is always going to be my job as the coach of LSU.” (Orgeron did not return a call and text seeking comment on Tuesday).

Complicating matters is that Texas coach Tom Herman turned down the chance to coach at LSU in November. That failed courtship rankled LSU athletic department officials. Whether that’s motivating them to keep attempting to box Texas out of working a camp in Louisiana is unknown. But Herman, who declined comment Tuesday, stayed persistent in landing an affiliation for a camp in Louisiana. It appears he will fail.

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Local coaches have been critical of LSU’s perceived role behind the scenes boxing out schools like Arkansas, Houston and Texas, as it has limited the exposure of high school kids in Louisiana. (Texas, Houston, Cornell and Belhaven were committed to Thursday’s camp in Baton Rouge. Mumme said more coaching staffs may have joined). There’s a feeling locally that LSU’s vigilance to protect the state has hurt kids who aren’t talented enough to get offered scholarships to an SEC power like LSU. Roach said three Madison Prep players in recent years ended up at Houston (Bryan Jones), Texas (Malcolm Roach) and Oklahoma (Troy James) that didn’t get offered by LSU.

“I guess we let the optics of college football influence the ultimate goal, educating young men and exposing them to a better life,” Roach said in an interview on Tuesday. “The optics of college football has gotten in the way of what the mission of this thing is all about. I don't have any allegiance to anyone. I have an allegiance to these kids in my community.”

The bottom line of the camp that was scheduled for Thursday is that the perception of Texas taking part in a camp in Louisiana has obscured the reality. LSU likely won’t lose any recruits it covets. And it's just as unlikely Texas will sign a five-star player from the camp. The real value would have been for prospects who aren’t elite, as they would have shown up to seen by the Texas coaches, but in reality have a better chance to get noticed by the coaches at Houston, Belhaven or Cornell. “If you are the head coach at LSU, you should want the other kids in your state to have an opportunity,” Mumme said. “Ed needs to think about those kids that aren’t going to get a scholarship to LSU. I’ve been in the SEC as the coach of the (flagship) university of the state. You have show respect to those other kids as well."