SFA, SLC reunion could be just the start

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, May 14, 2024

It appears the Southland Conference is close to welcoming back a former member.

And perhaps a lot more.

It will make for an interesting conversation as league athletic directors meet in San Antonio this week.

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Unnamed sources have intimated that Stephen F. Austin is looking to return to the SLC after spending the last three years in the Western Athletic Conference.

The announcement could come as early as this month, sources said. It will likely happen after the school’s new president and athletic director take their positions.

There is also talk that the move could even be done in time for football season to be impacted. While it might seem too late, Lamar pulled off a similar move timing-wise when it returned to the Southland in the summer of 2022.

SFA may not be coming alone. Three other schools appear willing to explore making the jump to the SLC, the sources said.

Tarleton State, Abilene Christian and Texas-Arlington, all members of the WAC, have reached out to Southland officials after the WAC lost Grand Canyon and Seattle to the West Coast Conference.

Southland Commissioner Chris Grant would not comment Monday about on any of the speculation but has said his phone has been ringing.

He did reiterate that he is looking to expand the “smart way.” If all four were to join the SLC, the league would have a record 15 members with 12 playing football.

There has also been past talk of a possible all-Texas Football Championship Subdivision conference but that has not gained traction. Those discussions could start up again.

Grant has said he would like to one day have two divisions with possibly having a football championship game for an ultimate conference winner.

Three years ago, four SLC schools, including Abilene Christian and SFA, left for the WAC. Lamar has already returned while Sam Houston State has moved to Conference USA.

A few weeks ago Texas-Rio Grande Valley announced it was relocating to the Southland from the WAC on July 1. Texas-Rio Grand Valley will start football in 2025.

Under its former leadership, SFA was one of the main forces leading the four Texas schools to leave the SLC in July of 2021. The lack of investment by some SLC schools into their athletic programs was the reason most provided for the move.

The biggest reason for teams returning seems to be the cost of travel for the department’s programs.

The Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise reported that Lamar saved an estimated $350,000 in travel costs during its first year back in the Southland.

“We looked at the figures and we were pretty pleased with what we saw,” Lamar Athletic Director Jeff O’Malley said. “I think it’s just another way to show that we’re a great fit in the Southland Conference.”

SLC teams are exclusively in the Central Time Zone and travel by bus. The WAC has schools in three time zones, stretching from Texas to Seattle, and must fly to several games.

SFA was a member of the Southland from 1987 to 2021.