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Southland will listen to a pitch from New Orleans
The plot has thickened once again in the mystery surrounding the future of the Southland Conference.
SLC commissioner Tom Burnett said Monday that university presidents will listen this week to a formal pitch from officials at the University of New Orleans.
Burnett confirmed that UNO will be the fourth school to make a presentation since the start of the year.
Back in January, the San Antonio-based University of the Incarnate Word and Abilene Christian University stated their cases for membership.
In March, representatives from UT-Pan American came before the SLC board.
“So far,” Burnett said Monday from the SLC meetings in Galveston, “Abilene and Incarnate Word and Pan American have given us full presentations.
“UNO will be here Wednesday, so that will kind of complete what the presidents (wanted), ultimately a full presentation from all four.”
Within the last year, the SLC has shored up the losses of UTSA, Texas State and Texas-Arlington by adding Oral Roberts in Tulsa, Okla., and Houston Baptist.
With Oral Roberts coming on board in 2012-13 and Houston Baptist the following season, the SLC at the moment has 11 members heading into 2013-14.
Speculation is running rampant about the SLC’s intentions in talking to four prospective members.
“We’ve got some real strong options to look at,” Burnett said. “It’s not an easy decision. But we felt all along that we could go through a thoughtful process and not hurry it and not be desperate in trying to fill the conference back up.
“We want to do the right things long-term.”
UIW apparently still has a good shot because the school plays football, and it plays in the San Antonio market.
That being said, the SLC apparently isn’t in the mood to extend any invitations this week. Invitations, apparently, may not be forthcoming until sometime later in the summer.
In fact, the SLC commissioner said the conference wants to take a closer look at some of the applicants, particularly Division II programs UIW and Abilene, with campus visits.
“I don’t know how often our presidents and athletic directors would have been on their campuses,” Burnett said. “There might be the necessity to kind of check things out. I would assume those universities would be receptive to us doing that.”
UIW athletic director Mark Papich wasn’t immediately available for comment.
UNO’s story carries some intrigue.
Two years ago, strapped with financial concerns, UNO voluntarily left the Division I Sun Belt Conference and began the process of reclassifying to non-scholarship Division III.
Subsequently, it accepted an invitation from the Division II Gulf South Conference before switching gears again in the spring and announcing that it would continue to operate in Division I.
Now in the same system of schools with current SLC members McNeese State, Northwestern State, Southeastern Louisiana and Nicholls State, UNO will state its case before SLC presidents on Wednesday.
“They’ve had some competitive success,” Burnett said. “Their baseball team has gone to the College World Series. Their men’s basketball team has been ranked on a few occasions. New Orleans in the Southland footprint is certainly in a very important area.
“It’s where our teams recruit. It’s where our general students come from. It’s similar to … San Antonio. This is another very important market for us.”
UNO doesn’t play football but has hinted recently that it might consider starting a program.
“I think certainly we would expect them to tell us what their thoughts are on the possibility of football in the future,” Burnett said.
Added the commissioner: “I would not anticipate that they would have a plan in place for football immediately, but if they start football down the line … Football remains a priority. We’re a football conference. Always have been.”
The football question could be a key in UT-Pan American’s future in the Southland.
“Could they eventually do it?” Burnett asked rhetorically. “It’s not really for me to answer. I’m not prepared to say that impacts their membership possibility one way or the other at this point. I think they fully realize at Pan Am our football priority.”
Though Louisiana schools in the SLC likely would favor New Orleans, UT-Pan American is impossible to overlook.
The Edinburg-based school topped 19,000 in enrollment this year. Population in the Rio Grande Valley continues to climb. The Broncs are also optimistic about men’s basketball under coach Ryan Marks, formerly of St. Edward’s.
“They’re doing great things down at Pan American,” Burnett said. “”They’ve got a bright future. They’ve got great leadership down there. That’s part of the reason we wanted to talk to them.”
By jbriggs, San Antonio Express-News