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Lamar's Grid Return Pleases SLC Boss
HUNTSVILLE — Southland Conference commissioner Tom Burnett said he was delighted to see Lamar University reinstating football after a 20-year absence.
Burnett remembered Lamar football from his collegiate days at Louisiana Tech. The league’s commissioner in the north Dallas suburb of Frisco, Burnett was elated when he talked about Lamar’s intent to revive football.
“I certainly remember Lamar football from back in the 1980s and, of course, it’s fantastic for your area,” Burnett said last Saturday prior to the Southland Conference post-season baseball tournament’s championship game between Lamar and Sam Houston State.
“Football is the sport that drives and solidifies a conference’s membership. It’s the sport that defines who we are as a conference. We at the Southland Conference are as excited as anybody about Lamar football’s return.”
Prior to coach Ray Woodard’s new appointment as LU head football coach, Burnett indicated that he had no previous background of any significance with Woodard, the Navarro College mentor who was named to run the Lamar program last Monday.
“I do not have much familiarity with coach Woodard but knowing (LU-Beaumont president Dr. Jimmy) Doctor Simmons’ desire to bring back football at Lamar, I’m not surprised by how this has developed. It had to be on their timetable.
“Yet, when you really think about this part of Southeast Texas and its strong ties to football, to have a university in this part of the country to not have football is a rarity.”
Burnett was named conference commissioner on Dec. 23, 2002. The Southland Conference’s football membership has increased from six to eight schools over the past five seasons under Burnett’s leadership.
Southeastern Louisiana and Central Arkansas have been added to the 2003 roster of Texas State, Northwestern State, McNeese State, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin State and Nicholls State. Central Arkansas will play a SLC football schedule in 2008 but will be ineligible for post-season playoff competition.
Burnett’s concerns are that the Southeast Texas area financially supports Lamar’s efforts for football. The commissioner admitted another area of concern involved Texas State’s future in the league.
Southland Conference football ranks among the best Division I FCS leagues (1-AA) in the nation, and enjoys an annual expectation of competing for the national championship with multiple teams often advancing to the NCAA playoffs. But the Southland is not among the schools in the FBS – the Football Bowl Subdivision. Rumors have circulated within the SLC that Texas State is interested in a future jump.
“We hear the rumors that Texas State might move to another conference (such as Conference USA),” Burnett said. “Really, when you look back on it, we lost Louisiana-Monroe (2006)… In this day and age, you have to have another conference “to go to” and we have withstood a lot of changes over the years. The league remains a strong, viable organization.”
Lamar’s grid return pleases SLC boss
By Tom Halliburton, The Port Arthur News