Last Modified: Thursday, July 12, 2012 6:48 PM
The University of New Orleans made its pitch to the Southland Conference Thursday morning, and it appears it was a good one.
Though it will be another month before the league votes on whether to included UNO in its future, there was positive feedback from conference commissioner Tom Burnett and McNeese Athletic Director Tommy McClelland following their visit to the campus on the shore of Lake Ponchartrain.
“We take away from our experience that this is a major urban institution that just has a world of potential,” Burnett said. “What we see here is some really great opportunities.”
The years following Hurricane Katrina have been completely chaotic for UNO.
School enrollment has dropped from near 18,000 to 11,000. The school began transitioning from the Sun Belt Conference to Division III in 2010, then changed course to Division II last year before deciding to become a Division I Independent.
McClelland came away seeing that the school now has a more clear vision for its future.
“I saw a very prepared and organized group that were unified in their belief that Division I is absolutely where they need to be,” McClelland said.
His primary concerns about whether UNO can make the cut had to do with financial and Academic Progress Report issues.
“The president (Peter Fos) restored funding to athletics. There was no institutional support before. He restored that funding,” McClelland said. “The new athletic director (Derek Morel) has an aggressive plan in place for attendance, season ticket goals and potetinal revitalization of private-tier donations.”
Lakefront Arena has been renovated post-Katrina and UNO’s baseball facility is currently undergoing a facelift as well.
McClelland said UNO will find out where it stands with the NCAA on APR issues later in the month.
“We’ll get a better grasp whether it is very severe or not big issue at all then,” McClelland said. “It’s still a little bit of a question. There was no meat that they can provide us. They don’t know yet.”
McClelland said that football is very much part of the discussion, but the school has to address more immediate concerns before forming a concrete plan about starting a program.
“They want to focus on making programs they have better and competitive within a Division I scheduling format, but football very much was discussed,” McClelland said. “It’s one of those things — they’ve got such a plateful now that they have to be handle and digest and move forward. But football is definitely in their sights.”
McClelland emphasized that football will not ultimately factor into UNO’s admission.
“The Southland won’t make the decision based on if they might start football,” McClelland said. “Football is a bonus, a cherry on top.”
The Southland will visit two Texas schools, Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word, later this month. League presidents will convene to determine whether the schools will be invited to the Southland no sooner than the beginning of August, McClelland said.