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Saturday, November 29, 2014
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(Special to the American Press)

(Special to the American Press)

Southland fails to read fine print

Last Modified: Thursday, January 09, 2014 11:43 AM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Talk about your growing pains.

As the Southland Conference’s belly swelled while swallowing up just about anybody willing to join their league last summer, the league’s pants got tighter and tighter.

Even after McNeese State seemed to unbuckle the league’s belt on New Year’s Eve by canceling a basketball game with Dillard, some in the SLC were still overstuffed.

Their pants finally burst Wednesday with an embarrassing announcement from the conference itself.

Three teams have been forced to forfeit a total of four games over the next few weeks, three of those coming on the men’s side.

It leaves not only the schools but league officials with egg on their faces.

The scrambling began when McNeese’s men’s team fired a warning shot. Cowboys brass realized playing Dillard University on the last day of 2013 would put them in violation of an NCAA rule limiting the number of games a Division I school can play against lower-level programs.

The Cowboys were somewhat blindsided when they had to play a Division II school in the Preseason NIT.

That was not the case for Oral Roberts, which will now lose men’s games against Incarnate Word and Abilene Christian, two league newcomers who joined the Conference July 1 when the Southland opened its arms to just about anybody.

Both will be Division I next year, ironically when Oral Roberts is back in the Summit League.

Truth is, while the Southland was getting fat on appetizers, a national meal was slipping away.

It is hard to blame Oral Roberts for wanting to leave this mess, even if most of this problem was its own fault.

Just 15 months after making its SLC debut, the basketball team at Oral Roberts is sprinting toward the escape hatch.

Two other teams, Stephen F. Austin’s men’s and Southeastern Louisiana’s women, will also give away games.

If nothing else, it does show the league was fast to the table and maybe didn’t either do its homework or passed along enough information to its schools.

Last year, when the conference grew to 14 schools, it seemed like panic had set in. You could not tell which direction the conference was headed.

Picking up Oral Roberts seemed to tell the college sports world the Southland was looking to step up in competition.

That was followed by Houston Baptist joining before UIW and Abilene Christian seemed to send another message.

At that time we said the league was moving too fast, that it needed to slow down and make the right choices when it came to adding schools, not the fast ones.

League officials responded by saying they knew what they were doing and had a plan.

Now, they have to make another plan.

Problem is, this could impact teams when it comes to making the eight-club Southland tournament. Two losses will be hard for Oral Roberts to overcome, which may not matter to the program since it has more than one foot out the door.

Let’s hope this is a one-time mistake by all parties involved. More changes are coming and it will be important for the league to stay on top of what is happening.

No matter who’s at fault, this is a major blemish on a league that has struggled to find its place at the college basketball table.

That can happen when you bite off more than you can chew.

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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