Jim Gazzolo column: SLC should make LC center of its universe

Published 11:00 am Thursday, August 3, 2023

It has always been a complicated relationship, the one between the Southland Conference and McNeese State.

The longest-tenured member of the league and the front office have had their share of ups and downs over the years.

It wasn’t that long ago when the conference and its leaders took for granted that McNeese would always be an active member of the Southland even as other schools came and left.

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The old reliable Cowboys were always there to stabilize the league and make sure all seemed right.

Then came the fall of 2021.

With five schools having announced they were leaving the Southland, McNeese officials took a long, hard look at the options that lay at their feet. At that time it was the Western Athletic Conference and its restarting of football.

A move to something shiny and new sure looked better than staying put on what seemed to be a path to nowhere.

But, at the last minute, McNeese surprised all and stayed in the league, thus saving the Southland in the process. Or so the story goes. What would have happened to the SLC had the Cowboys left is an unknown, but it probably would not have been good.

McNeese was rewarded handsomely with becoming the center of the SLC world for championship tournaments.

That sat pretty well with the people in Frisco, Texas, who at that time were desperate for a lifeboat. The rest of the conference was not as pleased, believing McNeese was given too much.

Whatever your take on that the truth is the league and McNeese became closer than ever. They seemed joined at the hip.

That was early November of ’21, not even two years ago.

Now, the relationship is a bit of a strange one. The league and school do appear to be on the same page, but the future is a bit muddled.

In February of 2025, 18 months from now, the Southland Conference’s lease in Frisco will be up for renewal, according to Commissioner Chris Grant. While he would not speculate on any movement, it does seem to be a good time for the conference to have its home offices move a bit farther to the south.

Currently, only one SLC school is even close to the league offices, that being Texas A&M-Commerce almost 90 minutes away. Two of the more powerful voices of the past, Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State, both much closer to Frisco, have left.

Heading toward the Gulf Coast would make sense for the league geographically.

While Grant would not comment on any such talk, there has always been an interest for some to have the league closer to its schools. Eight of the 10 members are either on or below Interstate 10.

Let’s face it, and not playing homer here, but it would seem Lake Charles would be a perfect fit if the league wants to move. It would be the ultimate reward to McNeese and make a lot of sense.

With four major league championships hosted here, at least as of today, then there would be a great chance to market the SLC product.

That may even please other school officials who might not want to travel to North Texas for league business.

Granted, the league wants to expand so Lake Charles may not always be the perfect center, but it is pretty close.

Grant, again, would not comment when asked but the league seems to be willing to try anything to make things better now.

This is where the relationship with McNeese gets interesting, though.

Could the Southland make a long-term commitment to Lake Charles while McNeese continues to talk about moving out of the league if a spot in a Football Bowl Subdivision conference opens up?

Maybe someplace like Conference USA for example.

The Cowboys brass has made it known to the world that it would jump at the chance of moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision level if any of those leagues would extend an invitation. If that remains the case it would be hard for the SLC to commit to the area.

That’s why the relationship between McNeese and the Southland is a bit more complicated than it appears on the surface.

And, of course, as we have seen over the last few years, a lot can change in 18 months. It likely will too.

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