The announcement last week by charter Southland Conference member Texas-Arlington that it is leaving to join the Western Athletic Conference in 2012 took many in the SLC by surprise and leaves the 48-year-old conference scrambling to consider its own expansion options.
The decision by Texas-Arlington to join Texas State and Texas-San Antonio in the WAC (they also will depart in 2012) leaves the Southland with nine member schools: Southeastern Louisiana, Nicholls State, McNeese State and Northwestern State from Louisiana; Lamar, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi from Texas; and Central Arkansas.
Of those remaining nine, all but Texas A&M-Corpus Christi play football. Texas-Arlington also does not field a football program.
“As a football league for (nearly) 50 years, we won’t be affected,” SLC Commissioner Tom Burnett said Monday. He is optimistic that the SLC will hold onto those schools.
“We have a core group of schools committed to our conference,” Burnett said. “I think we have a lot to offer.”
The WAC’s decision to accept Texas-Arlington took those in the SLC by surprise because it lacks a football program.
Apparently, the WAC was willing to overlook that deficiency to gain a foothold in Dallas-Fort Worth, the nation’s fifth-largest TV market.
“I couldn’t have predicted that Texas-Arlington would go to the WAC,” Burnett said. “I wasn’t consulted by Texas-Arlington.”
“No question it was a surprise to all of us,” McNeese Athletic Director Tommy McClelland told The Associated Press. “It happened so fast. They were not even in the rumor mill.
“To have a member school who was so deeply rooted in our conference leave is never good. The move has definitely gotten our attention.”
While Burnett indicated expansion is a possibility for the Southland, it won’t happen recklessly.
“You expand for one of two reasons: to enhance your conference or desperation,” Burnett said. “For us, it’s the former and not the later. If our presidents find schools that can bring value to our conference, we may move on that.”
Burnett said the conference has received interest recently from schools “looking for a home,” but that any potential new members must be a fit geographically.
“To think we would go to someplace like Iowa and still consider ourselves the Southland Conference isn’t realistic,” he said. “We will look in our geographic area and the areas that touch it.”
The last time the SLC expanded was in 2006 when Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Central Arkansas came in at the same time Louisiana-Monroe left for the Sun Belt Conference.
“I don’t want to see any knee-jerk reaction to the loss of those (three WAC) schools,” McClelland said.
“We want quality, not just quantity.”