By BRAD KEITH
Tarleton State athletic director Lonn Reisman believes the Lone Star Conference is at the most critical juncture in its history.
Talks of an exodus of the Oklahoma members of the LSC have exploded in recent weeks, with widespread reports that Central Oklahoma and Northeastern State will be joining the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association(MIAA), while Southwestern Oklahoma State, Southeastern Oklahoma State and East Central are looking to form anew conference with six Arkansas schools.
Any such realignment would not take place before the 2011-12 academic year.
There are a wide variety of opinions concerning what the potential moves would mean for the LSC and its remaining members, and Reisman is among those who would prefer at least some of the Oklahoma schools remain with the league.
"The LSC is in a period of transition. We've seen this begin in Division I, and now we're starting to see it trickle down toDivision II," said Reisman, who is the longest tenured athletic director in the conference. "I think we'll see Central Oklahoma and Northeastern State leave the LSC. I would hate to lose schools of their caliber, but they have to do what they feel is best for their athletic departments and their universities."
Reisman was once an assistant coach at Southeastern Oklahoma, and has served Tarleton as head men's basketball coach for 22 years and athletic director for 18.
"I have a handle on a lot of the history of this conference, and this is a very critical time," Reisman said. "Over the next few days and weeks some very critical decisions will have to be made concerning the future of the conference and where it goes from here. I for one hope we can take this conference to a very high level."
Central Oklahoma athletic director Jim Muller released a statement saying the school has submitted a letter of interest to MIAA commissioner Jim Johnson.
"The dialogue that will occur over the next few weeks will give UCO and the MIAA an opportunity to determine what is in the best interests of both parties moving forward," Muller said in the statement. "Given the shifts in conference alignment in the NCAA recently, it's important that we continue to explore opportunities which are best for UCO, both academically and athletically."
A source close to the situation admits Northeastern State is also exploring its options.
East Central athletics director Brian DeAngelis spoke to the Ada Evening News concerning the issue.
"If (UCO and NSU) jump ship, here the other three of us are in Oklahoma with eight Texas schools. That's just not a good situation, so we have to look at our options," DeAngelis said, according to the report. "We would rather not do anything, but history has shown that people who don't do anything when times change fall behind."
Reisman understands why UCO and NSU are exploring the option of joining the MIAA.
"Central and Northeastern want to be part of a high-caliber conference, and the MIAA certainly fits that philosophy," he said. "The Lone Star does, too, but I think they are looking at things like travel concerns and seeing that (the MIAA) might be a better fit for them."
A better fit, Reisman says, is exactly why the remaining Oklahoma schools are looking at other options.
"At the same time that all this is going on with Central and Northeastern, we've heard that the Gulf South Conferencecould be splitting up," Reisman said. "The Oklahoma and Arkansas schools have old traditional rivalries and they share similar philosophies. I think they are all looking for a better fit."
But Reisman also believes that some of the Oklahoma schools, Southeastern in particular, fit well in the LSC.
"When you look at a school like Southeastern that is right on the (Texas-Oklahoma) border, you see that they recruit a lot of Texas kids and have a lot of Texas ties," he said. "They could stay in the LSC and be fine. Personally, I would hate to see them all split."
As for how the potential departure of the Oklahoma schools would affect Tarleton specifically, Reisman has mixed emotions.
"There are positives and negatives," he said. "Scheduling and travel concerns me the most. Will the Oklahoma schools still play us if it's not mandated because we're in the same conference? I'm not sure they would."
Reisman believes such big decisions will be made quickly because schools are required to notify the conference byAug. 1 if they plan to make a move the following year.
"I think we'll see something happen very soon," he said. "I just don't know exactly what it will be."