Jim Gazzolo column: SLC would do well to listen to its schools

Published 9:03 am Thursday, October 7, 2021

There is nothing like a press box before a football game when it comes to hearing and talking gossip.

It would put a high school locker room to shame.

Rumors run wild in this setting. The comings and goings of college athletics changes with each and every person added to the conversation.

How much ends up being true is always hard to say. I would imagine there is some truth to all that is spoken, but it often takes a long time to discover who is right and who was just fishing.

Still, there is great interest these days when the subject comes to conference expansion and change. A Southland Conference press box is no different and maybe even more informative. It certainly isn’t dull.

If you listened closely last Saturday morning, and threw in a few tidbits of your own, you might discover that of the six remaining football playing schools in the SLC as many as five have wondering eyes. A few have done some window shopping and others have even made official pitches to other leagues. It’s the sign of the times.

Yes, college football’s free-fall is alive and well in the Southland even as the league brings on a newcomer of its own last week in Texas A&M Commerce. The SLC is also rumored to be actively looking to add more football programs. Central Oklahoma is one of the names being mentioned.

On Saturday, Southeastern Louisiana was to play McNeese while this pre-game gab session was taking place. Everybody has heard the talk or read the reports that the Cowboys are looking around, but it seems Southeastern may also be thinking of its future as well if word in the box is correct.

Two things sports writers love to do is gossip about sports and eat free food. So between bites there is always interesting talk.

What was hard to believe, and still remains the case five days later, is that nobody from the Southland’s home office has been in touch with any of the schools about their intentions. McNeese officials confirmed they have heard nothing from SLC Commissioner Tom Burnett about ways of making the Cowboys happy in the SLC.

That seems both strange and about right for a league that has all the looks of the Titanic moments after hitting the iceberg.

Why would the league’s brass not go on a road trip within the league to get the pulse of the situation? Even Capt. Edward Smith of the doomed ship had enough sense to ring the alarm.

Maybe Frisco, Texas, the home of the conference, is simply too nice to leave for a few days this time of year. Maybe the league officials are too busy working on getting new programs to join rather than keeping what they got.

It’s harder and harder with each passing day to see just what the Southland’s plan is when it comes to the future, but giving a life line to those already in the league would seem like a good place to start.

Perhaps they should take notes from their coaches who are learning the hard way how tough it is to keep players during this time of the NCAA transfer portal. College athletes in all sports are exploring the new world they play in, using this time as free agents. It’s not surprising schools themselves are doing the same thing.

There are new deals being worked on every day, but it would seem smart that the Southland should try hard to keep those schools it already has. This has been an issue in the past, as often the league looks out of touch with its institutions.

Colleges are looking for love, for reasons to call a conference home. They don’t all want to leave but there is pressure to do so when everybody else is looking. Nobody wants to be left behind.

Now is the time, before it runs out, that the Southland makes its final push to keep those in the league happy and staying put.

Burnett and his mates need to sell not only to potential new programs but also those already in the league. And they should start before it’s too late.

At least that’s the word in the press box.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com