While the Big XII got most of the headlines in the conference realignment campaigns, there is still plenty of action going on, with both the Lone Star Conference and the Southland Conference likely to undergo major changes in the near future.
In the Southland Conference, both Texas State and UTSA are seriously planning to move to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). Sam Houston State has recently developed a survey to help determine the feasibility of such a move and Central Arkansas is also rumored to be looking into moving up. That leaves 7 schools - Lamar, Stephen F. Austin, Southeastern Louisiana, McNeese State, Nicholls State, and Northwestern State. That brings up another possibility - that several of Louisiana's universities are in serious financial trouble. According to the Times-Picayune, the result of stimulus funds not being replaced by state tax dollars could result in program closures and elimination of athletic programs. Rumor has it the McNeese, Nicholls and Northwestern State fall into the troubled institution category.
In the Lone Star Conference, there are expected be movements as well. However, at this time, no program is discussing changing divisions, just conferences. Central Oklahoma and Northeastern State have expressed interest in joining the MIAA conference, along with Nebraska-Kearney and Lindenwood (MO). Also looking to leave are East Central University, Southeastern Oklahoma, and Southwestern Oklahoma. They are discussing forming a new conference with six Arkansas universities currently in the Gulf South Conference. Not to be outdone, Eastern New Mexico is studying a possible move, either to the Rocky Mountain Conference or the new Oklahoma-Arkansas conference. ENMU president, Steven Gamble told the Portales News-Tribune that an increase in LSC membership fees - from $15,000 annually to $50,000 - is a reason the schools are considering leaving. It is unclear if Cameron and Texas Woman's University have any plans to leave the LSC (neither have football programs). If all of the non-Texas schools do leave, that would leave the LSC with 8 football playing schools - Abilene Chrisitan, Angelo State, Incarnate Word, Midwestern State, Tarleton State, Texas A and M-Commerce, Texas A and M-Kingsville and West Texas A and M. schools.
The non-Texas schools have had some success in football, but not sustained and not recently. Central Oklahoma has been the most successful and longest tenured of the Oklahoma schools, the Bronchos have won or shared 2 LSC football titles, advanced to the NCAA playoffs 4 times, but just once in the past 11 seasons. Northeastern State has also won or shared the LSC title twice, and made the playoffs twice (both in 1999 and 2000, advancing to the national semifinals in 1999). They have not had a winning record since the 2000 season. Southeastern Oklahoma shared on LSC title in 1999, and made the playoffs once, in 2004. They have been consistent, with winning records in 7 of the last 8 seasons (53-30 over that period). Southwestern Oklahoma has no LSC titles or playoff appearances. The Bulldogs have four winning seasons since joining the LSC and sport an overall 45-81 record. East Central also has no LSC titles or playoff appearances. They have had two winning seasons since 2001, with an overall 28-67 record. Eastern New Mexico has one LSC title (1991) but has never made the NCAA playoffs. They have not had a winning season since 2004 , and are 18-36 overall since then. They have not won an LSC South game since October 2006, a streak of 19 games.
Got all that? OK, now that we know where we are now (kind of), what are the possibilities for the future (assuming all the non-Texas schools secede)?
1. LSC schools move up to FCS. Could the LSC replicate their move from NAIA to the NCAA thirty years ago? Are all of the schools in a position to pull this off financially? Are any of them? If they did move to FCS, could the LSC and Southland merge and form a compact (by today's standards) conference?
2. LSC schools stay in Division 2, and McNeese State, Nicholls State and Northwestern State drop down to D2 and join the LSC. Could UT-Pan American drop to D2 and start a football program?
3. Current D3 programs such as Trinity, Mary Hardin Baylor or Hardin Simmons make the move to D2. All have solid programs at their current level, and may be reluctant to shake things up.
4. Current D2 schools such as St. Marys, Texas A and M-International, St. Edwards, UT-Permian Basin or NAIA Wayland Baptist start football programs and join the LSC.
5. Maintain the status quo. The LSC is a premier conference, competitive nationally in all sports and would not need to add new members. Football would have a challenge to fill 3-4 non-conference games, but that is also an opportunity to develop some great rivalries with MIAA or GSC schools. Who wouldn't want to see a North Alabama-WTAM matchup, or Pittsburg State and Tarleton State? How about a rematch of the 2002 national semifinal game between Valdosta State and TAMK? Delta State-ACU anyone? Northwestern Missouri and Midwestern State, or Nebraska-Omaha and TAMC? It looks pretty good to us too.
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