BREAKING: Southland commissioner to retire

Published 2:48 pm Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The rebranding and remaking of the Southland Conference is in full swing. 

Longtime league commissioner Tom Burnett will be retiring from the job he’s held for almost 20 years at the end of this basketball season according to sources. 

Burnett is the seventh Commissioner in SLC history, taking over for Greg Sankey on Dec. 23, 2002. 

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According to sources, Deputy Commissioner Chris Grant, who joined the Southland in June and helped broker the deal to keep McNeese State in the league, will take over the day to day operations as acting commissioner immediately.  

Grant is expected to have full commissioner duties and is considered the likely candidate to replace Burnett upon his leaving sources said. That is important as the league continues to look for new schools to rebuild from recent departures.

Burnett is currently the head of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament committee, a job he will continue to do until the event’s conclusion in early April. At that time he will leave the Southland and Grant is expected to take over fully. 

It is not known how much pressure Burnett was under from league leaders. 

Burnett is the seventh Commissioner in SLC history, taking over for Greg Sankey on December 23,2002. 

Under his watch the conference has seen more than its share of movement as teams came in and out of the league with regularity. Of late most the movement has been through the exit door.

It was just last year that the SLC had 13 teams, 11 of which played football. That is now down to eight and six respectively. 

Since last June six teams have either left or are leaving the Southland Conference. Five said goodbye on June 1, four of those going to the Western Athletic Conference. 

Recently, Incarnate Word announced it was also heading to the WAC at the end of this spring season. McNeese was within hours of doing the same but a last-minute deal kept the Cowboys in the conference.

That move likely saved the league itself. 

McNeese State supporters have often been critical of Burnett. He has been considered to be too pro-Texas schools in his actions. 

To his credit Burnett did secure the FCS championship game for Frisco, Texas through the 2025 season. Frisco is the home of the Southland Conference, but with no league team in the area that could change.

Both Lake Charles and McNeese officials have said they would like to see the conference consider the City to be the league’s new home base.

McNeese officials would not comment on this news.