Texas A&M-Commerce officially joins SLC

Published 10:19 am Saturday, July 2, 2022

The Southland Conference on Friday officially welcomed its newest member, Texas A&M-Commerce.

The Lions become the ninth full member of the league and seventh with a football program. Commerce begins a four-year transition from Division II to the Division I level with the move.

“It is a distinct honor to join the Southland Conference,” Texas A&M-Commerce President Mark J. Rudin said when the school received the invitation nine months ago. “This decision was made with feedback from several key constituent groups at the university, led by our student body leadership. Careful and thoughtful consideration was given to assessing the opportunity to compete at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics.”

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Commerce is the fourth consecutive Division II football program to join the Southland by expansion. Houston Baptist, Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word all came into the league from the D-II level in 2013.

That streak will change next year when the SLC welcomes Lamar back from the Western Athletic Conference next summer. Lamar is a Division I program that left the Southland along with Abilene Christian and three other schools in 2021.

“We are glad to get them,” McNeese State President Dr. Daryl Burckel said when Commerce announced its intentions to joins the SLC. “I think they play a good brand of football and are strong in other sports as well.”

But what exactly did the Southland get in the Lions?

In 2013 the decision to invite three D-II schools at one time seemed like a desperation move, easy pickings for the conference struggling at the time. Only Abilene had much of a reputation in football.

Commerce most closely resembles ACU. It has a winning football tradition.

In 2017 the Lions won the Division II national championship as part of a run that included five consecutive postseason appearances.

The school has solid athletic facilities with the gem of the bunch being Hawkins Field for football. The stadium capacity is 11,502, making it the third largest in the Southland. McNeese’s Cowboy Stadium is tops at 17,610.

The Lions are coming off a 7-4 season but will likely need time to build their scholarship numbers with the move up a level.

Overall, A&M-Commerce has sent 53 teams to the NCAA postseason since 2015, including a record 11 teams in 2018-19. Other performance highlights include individual NCAA track and field national championships, an NCAA softball regional championship, and multiple recent NCAA berths in volleyball, and men’s and women’s basketball.

However, the Lions do not have a baseball team.

What the Lions do best is make the Southland look attractive to other schools in search of a new league. Commerce is the first to join the Southland as a full member since that 2013 year and helps give the league stability moving forward.