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McNeese State men's basketball coach Dave Simmons  (Rick Hickman / American Press)

McNeese State men's basketball coach Dave Simmons  (Rick Hickman / American Press)

Southland's playground too small for Cowboys

Last Modified: Thursday, May 22, 2014 12:48 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Dave Simmons did it again.

The McNeese State men’s basketball coach has once more produced a team that qualified for the Southland Conference tournament — next March.

Congrats coach.

Of course, he got a lot of help.

Simmons’ team didn’t earn the postseason spot on the court, but rather in the classroom.

Maybe it’s better said, the Cowboys didn’t blow it in the classroom.

McNeese’s grades were good enough to earn a spot in the tourn-ament when other teams fell short.

Lamar isn’t eligible. Central Arkansas isn’t eligible. Houston Baptist isn’t eligible.

It should be noted that most of the damage was done by now-gone coaching staffs, but it is this year’s groups that will pay the price.

Add to the fact that Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word are both not eligible because they are in the transition period moving up from Division II and you start running out of names to fill the Southland bracket.

With the quick exit of Oral Roberts, the league that had 14 teams last year is quickly down to eight fighting for the championship in the upcoming season.

Never has the catch phrase Southland Strong been so weak.

To be fair, none of this is the Cowboys’ fault. But in this world, as we have said before, you are who you hang out with.

Unfortunately, right now McNeese is stuck hanging out with some troubled folks.

Of the eight programs that were hit with sanctions by the NCAA for grade woes, three of them are men’s basketball teams from the Southland.

At least the league never pushed the phrase “Southland Smart.”

Suddenly, the race for Katy, Texas, and the tournament has become a crawl.

The regular season, which doesn’t produce an NCAA tournament berth, now is even more meaningless. It’s just positioning for the tournament.

I guess that means something, just not to the five clubs which now have nothing really to play for.

It should make any last-minute recruiting easier if Simmons has a hole or two to fill.

The Southland can’t even invite everyone into the pool, because two of them don’t have bathing suits and three others need life rafts.

New battle cry for the conference tourney: If you are eligible, you are in.

McNeese has simply outgrown the Southland Conference.

I have no answers for where the Cowboys can go, or even where they should start looking. I just know they have outgrown the league they are in.

It is not that they have changed but rather the neighborhood itself has changed.

Where once there were like teams with actual rivals now only has strangers with no attachments.

The old block party has been replaced by a welcome wagon as teams come and go quickly.

Oral Roberts needed just two years to figure this out and hopped off the train before it fully jumped the tracks.

McNeese should be so lucky. However, finding a soft landing spot when football is your number one sport is not so easy.

This is not to say that McNeese State and its sports programs will win every championship. It is just to say it should have higher expectations.

I don’t know where the Cowboys can move to, but when your once nice, cozy neighborhood becomes a dump site, it is time to find a new home.

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at

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