We recently spoke with Stan Wagnon, commissioner of the Lone Star Conference. Stan has been a part of the LSC staff for nine years, and spent 3 years as the Sports Information Director at Tarleton State and prior to that, 4 years at Midwestern State. He got is start at Central Oklahoma, where he served as a student assistant in the SID office.
Q - Stan, can you tell us about your history in the LSC office?
Stan Wagnon - I’m in my ninth year overall with the LSC and fifth as Commissioner. I joined the conference staff in April 2003 and was fortunate to work for the legendary Fred Jacoby for nearly three years. I soaked up as much knowledge as I could until he became ill and could no longer work. I served six months as Acting Commissioner and another five months as Interim Commissioner before the Presidents officially hired me as Commissioner in January 2007.
Q: Recently, the Lone Star Council of Presidents held its annual summer meeting. One of the actions taken by the council was a directive for you to identify and recruit football-playing institutions to join the LSC. What were the reason's for the council's directive? (reactive - Oklahoma schools leaving, proactive - DI school movement creating a vacuum at the IAA level that might entice some conference schools to leave the LSC?)
SW - Football is such a different animal than other sports due to the number of folks involved, whether it be the bigger rosters, more coaches, greater fan following, or the presence of a marching band. There’s just more people involved. For games away from campus, obviously that translates to costing more money when the football team travels as compared to a baseball or golf team. Couple that aspect with the Division II regular season being limited to 11 playing opportunities in 11 weeks and you begin to recognize the importance of scheduling in football. There’s not as much flexibility as found in other sports. Obviously a key benefit to conference membership is the betterment of schedules. We want to provide our members with the proper balance of home and away games, so as to control their costs, minimize time away from campus, and maximize opportunities for revenue and rivalry. The message to me from our Council of Presidents was to leave no stone unturned, survey the landscape to see what’s out there that might be a good fit for us. We’re not in a place of panic; this league started with five football teams and has excelled a great many years with fewer than our current total. The quality is there, but the message was to recognize that it’s time to study the quantity and see if we can add in a way that makes sense. We have 11 members – nine that play football – with a singular vision of making this league the premier Division II conference in the country, so I'll be looking to for schools that desire to align with that philosophy and are willing to embrace our goals and the values we’ve committed to use in fulfilling that vision.
Q: How will you approach this task?
SW - Frankly, I’ve been studying the possibilities for some time now. I’m not sure any conference commissioner ever ceases to wonder about membership scenarios, but certainly the Lone Star Conference has seen enough change over the years that it’s a fairly regular routine in our office. The LSC was founded in 1931 and experienced its first membership expansion that same year and its first member withdrawal only two years later. Our history reflects a pattern of membership change. In fact, the 10 years before admitting Incarnate Word marked only the third time since World War II that we had gone more than five years without change. The recent round of conference realignment started to appear on the radar in Spring 2009, and it now has affected quite a few conferences at every level. It has been about a year since we knew for certain that our membership would be impacted. During the course of this past year, I’ve researched our options for new members and it has evolved quite a bit during that span. Several universities have applied or expressed interest in applying for Division II membership over the last year, and some schools in the area have committed to sponsoring new football programs. My goal for the coming year will be to switch gears from studying options into approaching mutually beneficial candidates, sharing our vision and plans for the conference, gauging their potential interest of joining our membership, and ultimately recommending future steps for the league Presidents to consider.
Q: What kind of timeline (from now to possible invitations) do you foresee?
SW - I don’t want to speculate on the timeline, because ultimately I don’t have complete control of that. What I do know is my primary goal for this year is to identify and recruit football-playing members. I intend to make significant progress toward that goal during the upcoming academic year. The LSC Council of Presidents meets annually in January and June, so those dates are generally good markers to keep in mind. My role will be to lay out the various options, plan the next steps, and let them make the decisions. For example, our current geographic footprint probably can be best described as within 200 miles of a triangle formed using Amarillo, Dallas and San Antonio. I would find particular value in identifying viable candidates within that triangle, but there might be additional opportunities outside of our current footprint and it’s my responsibility to ensure the Presidents are aware those as well. My job is to help them make well-informed decisions.
Q: Several universities come to mind as potential candidates - McMurry (interested in moving from D3 to D2), Wayland Baptist (reinstating footbll in the NAIA), Mary Hardin Baylor (D3 and planning a $20 million on campus stadium). At first glance, are these programs compatible with the current LSC members?
SW - I’m not yet in a place to comment publicly about the compatibility or interest of potential candidates, but I am aware of McMurry’s application for Division II membership, Wayland Baptist’s decision to sponsor football, and Mary Hardin-Baylor’s plans for a beautiful new stadium. Each of those situations reflects a desire to enhance the student-athlete experience, and I applaud their efforts. In the coming weeks and months, I intend to take a closer look at these and other universities in the area to better determine if the possibility exists for a mutually beneficial relationship.
Q: Do you know of any other universities that are considering adding football to their athletics programs?
SW - At this time and in this area, I’m aware that NAIA members Wayland Baptist and Oklahoma Baptist are adding football, plus New Orleans has stated intentions of adding football as it transitions from Division I into the Division II Gulf South Conference. Incarnate Word successfully implemented a football program in 2009, Lamar enjoyed success in reinstating its program last year, and UT-San Antonio will play for the first time this fall. It's encouraging to see a good number of universities in this area realizing the value of sponsoring a football program. It's an important part of the culture around here, and it certainly has played a vital role in the LSC's tradition.
Q: Have you received any indications of interest from any universities?
SW - Yes, over the past two years I’ve had informal conversations with several institutions that expressed interest in possible membership. During that time we’ve had one formal request from a school wishing to be considered for membership. This past year, however, our league felt it was critical to make time for establishing a shared code of values and agreeing upon our intended path before adding to the membership. Our 11 members have approached the recent changes as an opportunity to rally around one another and embark upon an exciting future with a unified approach. For the first time we’ve sat around the table and talked about what we like and don’t like, and most importantly we’ve agreed upon the organizational values that define our group and its purpose. That’s why it is appropriate, now that we’ve agreed upon what we’re about as a group, to examine opportunities for enhancement.
Q: What other actions did the council take?
SW - This past meeting was one of the most productive in recent memory. The Presidents approved a great number of recommendations across our 16 sports, but the majority of their time was spent discussing big picture items. This included the approval of six organizational values and determining the context of why each value is so important. For example, we’re committed to Respect as one of our values, which encompasses the ideals of sportsmanship at our athletic events and citizenship in our communities, but it also speaks to our views on diversity and gender equity, as well as our intentions to consider individual member perspectives before ultimately vowing to make decisions in the best interest of the conference. The Council heard a report from a committee that is reviewing the membership guidelines for our conference, basically the minimum standards required to be a conference member. I expect the committee will recommend changes in the upcoming year, with any such changes geared toward promoting unity within the membership. We talked about the strategic plan for the conference, which is being refreshed and extended through 2017. That’s something that should be ready for consideration at the Council’s January meeting. The Presidents approved a new tagline for the conference that will be revealed through league-wide branding and marketing efforts in the coming weeks and should help us to better tell our story in the years ahead. And besides the charge to identify new football-playing members, we discussed my goals of bringing recognition and success to the LSC and its members through two major events in the coming year, the Lone Star Football Festival at Cowboys Stadium and the relocation of our basketball tournament to the Allen Event Center. These exciting events serve as evidence that LSC member schools are committed to using their athletic departments to increase visibility and promote the overall brand for their respective universities.
Thanks for your time Stan. We look forward to doing this again soon.