Jim Gazzolo column: Fourth- and-long for SLC

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, September 21, 2023

It has not been a good start to the season for the Southland Conference.

Just 16 months ago the league stood strong on the FCS mountaintop.

Then-league member Sam Houston State had just captured the Football Championship Subdivision national title. However, it was a watered-down version during the COVID-19 pandemic as some programs played an abbreviated season in the fall while others sat the year out.

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Still, the SLC could proudly hold its chest out and proclaim itself Southland Strong.

This fall those glory days seem long ago and far away. And one is left to wonder if the changing world of college football hasn’t left the once-proud Southland behind for good.

In a cash-and-carry world, the SLC doesn’t appear to have the financial portfolio to keep up with some of the rest, even in FCS.

Sam Houston left the league soon after its title and four other schools followed. Only Lamar has come back.

Their reason for leaving was mostly financial. They all wanted to be in a league with deeper pockets and with schools willing to spend their money to get better.

What has been left is a group of teams struggling this fall in the early going. It is getting more than a little embarrassing for the conference.

Since the league decided not to conduct a traditional preseason Media Day, instead going with an online video conference, things after gone downhill from there.

Over the season’s first three weekends of play, the eight Southland Conference football schools have posted three victories and 19 losses. That is the fewest number of wins of any Division I league.

The Ivy League is next up with a 5-8 record.

Only Incarnate Word, a school close to leaving the league a year ago, has a winning record at 2-1. The Cardinals went to the FCS semifinals last season after previously being the conference’s bottom feeder when they first entered.

Take away UIW and the remaining seven are 1-18 with the lone victory coming by Houston Christian against an NAIA school.

Some of that is, of course, teams playing money games against Football Bowl Subdivision programs, but not all of it. The Southland is 2-10 against other FCS programs with UIW posting the only victories.

This is not where the league expected to be at this point of the season as several schools made larger investments in their programs during the offseason.

Before the season SLC Commissioner Chris Grant said it was important the league began to win some of these crossover games with other FCS teams to raise the Southland’s profile nationally. Hope was a good preseason could maybe lead to more playoff berths in the future. That has not been the case.

Instead, the league has fallen on the hardest of times. It seems next to impossible at this point that the Southland gets two playoff bids unless UIW finishes second. The Cards are the lone nationally ranked Southland team checking in this week at No. 9.

To see where the league stands, one only has to look at the results from last weekend. In eight games against other FCS programs, the SLC went 1-5. The lone victory was UIW by seven over Abilene Christian.

In the other seven games, the Southland was outscored by 147 points, an average of more than four touchdowns, if you prefer. Not one of those losses came at the hands of a team ranked nationally at the time.

It is easy to figure this out, you kind of just have to follow the money for the most part. However, that can’t explain everything.

Southland officials have talked about expansion and bringing in some new blood, but you have to wonder if these types of numbers are going to bring in quality. It is time for the schools to sincerely invest in football if they want to compete on the national level.

That likely means changing what they are doing now, because from the looks of things, what the Southland is doing now isn’t working on the scoreboard.

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