|« Colleges Continue to Add Football Teams||Can College Football Analysts Avoid Bias When Covering Alma Maters? »|
SLC commissioner talks about a variety of topics
The following Q and A interview with Tom Burnett, Southland Conference commissioner. Burnett, who is in his 10th year with the SLC, discusses the evolution of the conference’s membership, new technology and other topics.
Q: With the launch of the Southland Digital Network this week, the league is taking a big step in increasing its web presence and providing more content to the fans in a variety of ways. What all does/will this new network entail?
A: The Southland Digital Network, when fully implemented, will give us the broadest possible variety of electronic formats, including the improved website, mobile and tablet apps, a news video widget, a YouTube Channel and a Smart TV app. We expect faster, smoother navigation of Southland.org, and we believe the exclusive video content such as game previews, postgame interviews, and “classic” programming will prove very compelling.
Q: What kind of impact do you see this new network having on the way fans throughout the Southland follow not only their own teams, but their rivals around the league?
A: As a service-oriented organization, I think we always want to provide as much information about the Southland and its members as we can. The Digital Network should increase and enhance the ways that the information is delivered. If you want to know about the Southland, or you fervently follow one or many our teams, you should have no problem staying updated, no matter how you receive your news.
Q: What aspect, or aspects, of the network are you personally most excited about?
A: The Southland Conference will now have the same digital network platform that the Southeastern Conference, the Big East and the Pac-12 have. That says a lot, and we believe that those following our league deserve the same services and access that fans of these other leagues get.
Q: Can you take us through the planning and development process a little bit? When it was identified there was the need to put something like this together, how to execute it, the decision to partner with XOS, what the most vital elements were, etc.?
A: More than a year ago, the conference staff began making a thorough assessment of the emerging technologies in our industry and examined the providers that could deliver the expanded options we were interested in. As our previous website agreement was coming to an end, we knew that just another web agreement was not going to suffice. We wanted a technology partner that could obviously provide us with an outstanding web product, but could also give us the Apple, Android and other mobile applications that have become so popular. We also wanted to maximize our video opportunities, and integrate online video with our Southland Television Network. Our team met with all the major players in web development and wanted to ensure we developed the best possible technology plan for the conference. It was clear early on that XOS Technologies could not only address our desires, the company also had a proven, executable business plan to accomplish what we wanted. Once our partner was determined, our staffers Todd Lamb and Chris Mycoskie led the way and have diligently been working the past few months on what we think will be a great technological experience for the conference.
Q: The Southland enjoyed a pretty successful year in 2011-12, including Sam Houston State advancing to the football championship game and UCA making the second round, multiple baseball teams making the NCAA Tournament, etc. Now, with the addition of Oral Roberts to the league, we get a program with a history of success, particularly in sports such as basketball and baseball. How do you feel about the strength of the league as a whole as we enter 2012-13?
A: I’ve always been very confident in the strength of this league and our membership’s ability to be competitively successful. The team and individual performances in 2011-12 were proof again that our institutions can achieve great things. ORU’s addition just makes the league even stronger, and just like we have done many times in the near half-century of the league’s existence, the Southland should plan on many more great things in 2012-13 and beyond, regardless of membership change.
Q: Houston Baptist is slated to join in a year, and there have been some other expansion possibilities explored in Abilene Christian, Incarnate Word and New Orleans. How do you feel about the stability of the league moving forward, and do you have a feel for how long the revolving door of realignment might last?
A: The term “stability” has been redefined in the recent years of conference realignment, and there’s simply no way to predict where things end up as leagues continue to shuffle. HBU provides the Southland with regular competition in the largest market in our region, home to a significant alumni population and where our institutions recruit large numbers of students and student-athletes. Plus, by adding a ninth football program to the league in 2014, HBU brings a great deal of potential success to the Southland.
Q: From what you’ve seen and feedback you’ve gotten on those three potential members under consideration for expansion, what attributes does each have that would make them quality additions to the league?
A: The Southland presidents have spent significant time and effort exploring our membership possibilities since last summer, and I believe they’ve selected to advance ACU, UNO and UIW to this point in the process for a variety of reasons. However, the process is not yet complete and the summer visits to these campuses in the near future will prove valuable in determining whether or not we continue the dialogue and possibly explore making offers.
Q: The major discussion topic surrounding college football this summer has been the implementation of a four-team playoff at the FBS level beginning with the 2014 season. There has been a lot of talk about strength of schedule playing a factor in the selection process. The playoffs in FCS expand from 20 to 24 teams in 2013, meaning more teams will be in competition for at-large bids. Do you see these two developments impacting scheduling in each subdivision?
A: Well, it’s certainly exciting to see the FBS move to a system – albeit a somewhat limited playoff – that has worked so well in determining the FCS national champion for 30-plus years. The strength of schedule factor and how it will be implemented for the FBS playoff will be interesting to watch, and we’re anxious to see how that may impact scheduling opportunities for FBS vs. FCS teams. We’d like to think these games can continue in the future, that they can remain beneficial in the schedule strength determination for both sets of playoffs. The 24-team FCS bracket in 2013 looks to be a good thing for all of us, and certainly believe the Southland will be well-represented by multiple teams in the field.
Q: The NCAA recently announced its APR penalties, which includes postseason bans for 10 men’s basketball teams, including Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the Southland. Are these penalties good for collegiate athletics? Are they fair to the student-athlete? Is the system fine as it is, or should it be revisited?
A: It’s difficult to argue against higher academic standards for our student-athletes, and while many can argue for or against the current system, its how we do things in Division I and we have to accept much of it as a cost of doing business at this level. However, it’s much more difficult personally to accept the postseason penalty that will be suffered by the A&M-Corpus Christi team in 2012-13, and the team is paying the price by some poor academic performances in previous years. What we do know is that the Islanders’ program is performing at a much higher level now, and we expect the ban to be temporary. I would personally like the Committee on Academic Performance to be able to utilize real-time data as one of its filters of improvement, something I think that would have fairly benefitted A&M-Corpus Christi. As a collective, Southland members have shown the best APR improvement of all conferences since the program began, and that’s something our institutions should all be very proud of.
Q: The Sports Network recently ranked the 13 FCS football conferences heading into this season, and placed the Southland fifth. Do you think that’s a pretty accurate assessment? If so, how great a divide do you see between the Southland and top four? If not, where would you slot it?
A: We can all have our opinions, can’t we? I’d say with the great success of Sam Houston State and UCA in 2011, not to mention how well Stephen F. Austin played down the stretch, I’ll take these rankings with a huge grain of salt. Plus, we all know the constant success of the McNeese State program, and I think other programs are only going to better as well. Historically, we’re right up there with any other FCS league, and while competitive success can be cyclical, I’ll take my chances with our bunch as they again compete for the national championship this season!