Jim Gazzolo column: Southland on solid footing

Published 8:00 am Saturday, June 25, 2022

Ten months ago Heath Schroyer stood between a rock and a hard place.

Trapped with the decision of picking between a new league or an old friend there really was no right answer for the McNeese State athletic director.

Shifting to the Western Athletic Conference would lead to higher travel costs in the hopes of a greater future and Football Bowl Subdivision football. It would also mean the death of the Southland Conference.

Email newsletter signup

Staying would mean partnering with a league that was clearly hemorrhaging from the recent exit of its largest programs.

In the end Schroyer cut a deal that made the most sense for McNeese and hoped for the best.

In April he got a vote of confidence when Lamar announced it would return to the SLC. Friday was an even bigger victory as Incarnate Word flipped on its decision of leaving for the WAC and announced it was staying in the Southland.

But if it was a good day for Schroyer, it was a giant one for SLC Commissioner Chris Grant.

The new guy on the block, Grant has already made a great impact on the Southland. He has helped bring Lamar back into the league and kept the door open just enough for UIW to crawl back in.

While this is clearly a smart move by the UIW brass, it never would have happened had Grant followed his predecessor’s way of doing business and just moved on and looked for the next lowest hanging fruit to pick for his Southland basket.

Before Grant, the Southland lost five solid programs. Since Grant, the league has gained three.

You can do the math and see those numbers show that Grant has made in impact for the league, which clearly still has work to do. Yet, Friday was the latest step in the right direction.

It’s not that UIW is a great get, but rather would have been more of a tough loss.

Think about this: Last fall Southland teams had to play three league foes twice in football just to complete a schedule. This season there will be no home-and-home series.

Why? Because of planning.

Grant and his crew had plans in place if UIW stayed or left. Now, with a little reworking, in the matter of a week or two new schedules will be out even on short notice.

Grant has his people are working on fixing problems before they exist. It’s why suddenly the Southland Conference is a place schools are heading toward instead of running from.

Not bad for Grant, who has only been in charge since early April.

It also probably makes Schroyer feel much better about his decision last fall when he cut a last-minute deal to keep McNeese in the SLC.

With 10 full members and eight football-playing schools staring in the fall of 2023 upon Lamar’s return, now the Southland doesn’t have to worry about losing its automatic qualifier to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

It is back on solid footing and could even have more schools willing to join — or rejoin even — in the coming years.

“We will continue to do our due diligence and talk to people who we are interest in and who are interested in us,” Grant said.

And, unlike last summer when all appeared lost, the once again has Southland eyes on it.

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