Friday, December 4, 2009

Q & A with LSC Commissioner Stan Wagnon

From the LSC Office

TOPEKA, Kan. – Days before the inaugural Lower Kanza Bowl, pitting Lone Star Conference representative West Texas A&M and Nebraska-Omaha, LSC commissioner Stan Wagnon took a few moments this week to reflect on the entire football season.
Not only is there excitement for Saturday’s bowl game, featuring the Buffaloes, who arguably the hottest team in the conference, winners of five straight games, but Wagnon talked about the entire season, including the depth from the South Division. He also discussed the possibility of an LSC team competing for a national championship, along with the excitement of seeing LSC players not only play, but contribute on NFL rosters.

Could you have imagined having a representative for this bowl game that’s playing as well as West Texas A&M is right now?
Wagnon: Yes, it’s a perfect situation. If you would’ve told me our fifth-place team would be the representative, I might have been a little worried about that initially. But, certainly West Texas A&M is far from being the fifth-best team in our conference right now. They’ve proved over the last five weeks, in our conference, that they can go toe-to-toe with anyone. They have had an unbelievable run of success the last five years and you can tell the last five weeks that it all came back to them and remembered whatever it is that has made them successful. I think they’ll be a good representative, both because they’re on a hot streak, but also because they’re hungry. They’re not coming in disappointed that they barely missed out in the playoffs. They’re coming in knowing that this was the prize they had in front of them for the last five or six weeks and they were successful enough to achieve this opportunity.

Can you just talk about how exciting this football season was for you and your conference?
Wagnon: We had four teams make the playoffs, which is the most in the history of our conference. And they were all from the South Division. Obviously, West Texas A&M is our Kanza Bowl representative, and they’re from the South. So you had five out of the seven teams in the division advance to the post-season. I would imagine there’s not another division of any conference in the country that can claim five teams advancing to the post-season. I don’t know, we might look at the Big XII or the SEC. It really would rival something like that. Of course, there’s a lot more post-season opportunities for Division I than there are for Division II.

So basically, this is about as good of a season as possible?
Wagnon: Yes, because in the country, you’re talking about 24 playoff spots. And we only have access to six of those because we work on regionalization. There are three bowl games in Division II, that’s six more opportunities. There are a total of 30 opportunities and we only have access to seven of them, and we’ve got five. So, that’s pretty good.

So from top to bottom, it’s hard to imagine a better group of teams in one division?
Wagnon: Yes, I’m not sure if we have any team that’s necessarily great. If you look at the MIAA, they’ve got Northwest Missouri that’s great and a bunch of pretty good teams behind them. If you look at the Great Lakes Intercollegiate, they’ve got Grand Valley and they’re great and a couple of other solid teams. We don’t necessarily have anyone that’s great, but the five teams we have that are in the post-season, outside of those elite programs in Division II, I think they’re as good as anyone in the country. On that next tier, I think those five teams can compete with anybody.

Were you surprised how one-sided the conference is with the top teams being in the South?
Wagnon: Ideally, you’d like to see more balance between the two divisions. But I don’t think you could complain about the steps that the South Division teams have made moving forward. The five programs that we’re talking about have made significant improvements over the last couple of years. West Texas A&M has not always been successful. The same thing goes for Tarleton State and Midwestern State. They don’t have maybe the history that Central Oklahoma has, or a Northeastern State. Both of those programs have national championships back in the NAIA days. But I don’t think you can complain about the progress those teams have made. All you can do is hope that the cycle comes full circle and some of the North programs make the push forward like the South teams have made.

Overall, do you like the parity this conference has?
Wagnon: Definitely. If you look back to the early 90’s, we had Texas A&I (now Texas A&M-Kingsville), Angelo State and East Texas State (now Texas A&M-Commerce). And those were the three programs that year in and year out, would contend for the championship. At that time, the programs like West Texas A&M, Tarleton and Midwestern, were quite a bit behind where those three programs are. Well, now that WTAMU and MSU are having success, if we can get TAMUK back to where they were and they’ve made big strides for that this year, and if we can get A&M-C and ASU back to the level they used to be at, and then get some of those Oklahoma schools back to the level of success they’ve enjoyed, we’re going to be a lot better off than we were back in the mid-90’s when the conference expanded to include the Oklahoma schools.

Do you think so much parity in the conference could prevent the LSC from having a really great time like you mentioned the other conferences have?
Wagnon: Yes, I don’t think there’s any question that the level of difficulty in the South Division takes a toll on our teams by the end of the year. I think if you look at the results the last few years, defensively, our teams have really struggled late in the year. I think that has a lot to do with the grind they go through in conference play. Obviously, we got a lot of publicity from the 93-68 playoff game last year (ACU vs. WTAMU). While they were great offensive performances, it’s not the type of publicity you want from the defensive standpoint. This year, a playoff game between Tarleton and TAMUK, it was 57-56 in double overtime. I promise you, I was at that game and on the field after the game, and those kids were spent. They left everything they had on that field and it required everything they had from both sides to stay in it. I had a bad feeling after that game, as good as the game was and excited a finish as it was, I had a bad feeling for whoever won, because I knew that it would be hard to match that type of intensity and physical performance seven days later. And sure enough, Tarleton went to Central Washington and couldn’t quite match the same level of play. I really think there’s something to that.

So do you see one team being able to overcome that?
Wagnon: I do. I still think, among the five teams we’re talking about, I still feel like one of them is going to step up and have a really good recruiting class and have some continuity in the coaching staff and have a great team. And they’re going to rise above the difficulties we’re talking about and figure out a way to get out of the region and compete for a national championship. I think all five of those programs are right on the cusp of getting to that point.

It seems like this year has been another good season as far as national exposure, especially from the NFL.
Wagnon: Yes, it seems like every time I go home and turn on the TV on Sunday, I’m seeing Johnny Knox running back a kickoff. You see Bernard Scott rushing for 166 yards. We had a game this year with four of our players in it. The Bengals and Bears played and we had three players from Abilene Christian – Johnny Knox, Bernard Scott and Danieal Manning. And the Bears also have Roberto Garza from Texas A&M-Kingsville on their offensive line. There’s a lot of guys on NFL rosters, more than you’d think. So, Lone Star Conference football is in pretty good shape.

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Lone Star Conference

Angelo State University

Cameron University

Eastern New Mexico University

Texas A&M-Commerce

Tarleton State University

Texas A&M-Kingsville

Texas Woman's College

University of Texas of the Permian Basin

West Texas A&M University

Western New Mexico