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Southland Conference working through changes
Conference realignment is nothing new in college sports.
In the past year, realignment has shaken up several of the NCAA’s major conferences.
The college football landscape has changed dramatically with several Football Bowl Subdivision teams switching affiliations looking for a better deal. Nebraska joined the Big 10, Colorado and Utah the Pac-10 and Boise State the Mountain West. BYU abandoned the Mountain West to become an independent.
There are rumors that more conference shifting could take place in the future, leaving an uncertainty in college sports.
The conference realignment issue has trickled down to the Football Championship Subdivision conferences such as the Southland Conference.
In the last nine months, the Southland Conference has lost three colleges — Texas State, Texas-San Antonio and Texas-Arlington — to conference realignment. The three Texas schools will become the newest members of the Western Athletic Conference beginning in the 2012-13 season.
The departure of three programs leave the Southland with nine colleges in Nicholls State, Central Arkansas, Lamar, McNeese State, Northwestern State, Sam Houston State, Southeastern Louisiana, Stephen F. Austin and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Texas-A&M Corpus Christi is the only non-football playing school, leaving the SLC with an eight-team football conference.
During the Southland Conference media days at L’Auberge Du Lac resort in Lake Charles last month, Southland commissioner Tom Burnett said realignment is an issue that affects every conference.
“It’s apart of the world we live in now,” Burnett said. “It’s coming to expect changes. We’re really not surprised by anything. You have to live with it, but we’re focusing on what’s good in this conference. Hopefully our conference members see the value in that.”
After losing three colleges to realignment, Burnett said there is a possibility that the Southland could see more changes, either by losing more SLC programs to bigger conferences or by expanding and adding more teams to the league.
“We don’t know what’s around the corner,” Burnett said. “We’re not sure what’s next. The bigger conferences shake things up, and that does have an impact on us. It’s still a lot more questions than answers, but it’s the world we live in. We accept that and we want to work on making our group as good as it could be. That’s all we can control.”
Burnett said he has been in contact with several other colleges that have expressed interest in joining the Southland, but he declined to name those schools.
“There are some interest from schools outside of our league,” Burnett said. “They want to know what we’re up to and what we might be planning for. Some of those schools play football. Some of them don’t. That’s some issues that our presidents and athletic directors will have to work with in determining what’s of value out there for us to add. There is more to come on that, but it’s really reassuring to know there is interest in our conference going forward.”
If the Southland does expand, Burnett said there are several components the conference will look for in a new member, including being a football-playing school, academic standings, geographic location and fan support.
“It’s kind of an all of the above,” Burnett said. “You could pick all the great things that a school might bring to the table, but it’s about compatibility. They look and feel like us and have a chance like our schools have to be competitive in this league. Lot of factors in there. Not one in more of the others, but they are all important.”
Burnett expressed confidence that the Southland Conference is still strong with an nine-member group starting in 2012, which will be the conference’s49th year of existence.
Many of the Southland coaches said they support for the current lineup of the league and would welcome adding at least one more school to the conference, which would help scheduling as the number of non-conference games would go from four to three. It would also give each team an equal number of home and road games.
“We’re in a climate of college football where there is a culture out there of change,” said Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque, who played football at Nicholls. “I don’t think by any stretch of imagination that conference realignment is finished. I think it will have a triple effect on our league. I think we have good leadership from Commissioner Burnett and his staff. We’re proud to be apart of that.”
Even with realignment, all of the Southland coaches felt like the league still be competitive as ever.
“I think the competitiveness is a good thing,” McNeese State coach Matt Viator said. “I just think it’s a tribute to the teams that are in the league. I think everybody has upgraded their programs to where everybody is competitive week in and week out. I think it’s a good thing. It’s exciting. We all have to play well every week just to have a chance.”
By Chris Singleton, DailyComet