SLC getting its head above water

Published 11:00 am Saturday, June 1, 2024

With Stephen F. Austin back in the fold, the Southland Conference can take time to continue its growth.

The league, on the verge of death a few short years ago, is back up and running, having survived its Western Athletic Conference takeover attempt.

“We are in a pretty good spot right now,” SLC Commissioner Chris Grant said recently. “My phone is ringing. I don’t have to call people.”

Email newsletter signup

The conference is back up to 12 teams overall with 10 football-playing members. That is a good thing when you consider how hard it is to schedule games for Football Championship Subdivision programs.

It is not clear if/when the league will go to a nine-game football schedule. McNeese, for example, has three non-conference games scheduled for the 2025 season, when the FCS level goes back to 11 games. This year McNeese is playing 12 games, seven in conference. The Cowboys will not play Southeastern Louisiana.

Next year Texas-Rio Grande Valley, which joins from the WAC on July 1 with SFA, will start football.

With extra teams, league officials hope the Southland can become a two-bid football conference, at the least. It wasn’t that long ago the league put three into the postseason.

Last year only league champ Nicholls State was awarded a playoff bid (automatic), as top 25 Incarnate Word was overlooked.

Basketball will stay at 20 conference games for this season, but that might change in the future. Getting home games against fellow mid-major schools is not easy for Southland clubs. McNeese is looking for home games this coming season.

As of today the conference will stay with eight teams making the postseason tournament, meaning four will be left out. That keeps the format the same with the top two seeds earning double byes.

Baseball and softball move to two double-elimination semifinal tournaments that will then see the winners play a series to determine the champ. The format was a big hit in 2021 when baseball did that.

Starting next season a third of the conference teams will be left out of the postseason. That will put added pressure on coaches.

As for the conference itself, change is sure to come but don’t look for it to be the rumored group. Three other Texas teams currently in the WAC have been open to a possible move, sources says, but for now that isn’t likely.

Grant, however, has always said he would love to see two divisions of seven teams, six that play football. That seems to be his perfect number.

While some would like to see that divided equally between Texas and Louisiana, that is quite unlikely. Current economic conditions between the states when it comes to education and athletics are greatly different.

There are a few Division II schools in Texas that have talked about moving up and could be in play, but each year things seem to change. Now everybody is waiting to see how things shake out on the higher levels and trickle down.

To put it simply: nobody knows what is next for college athletics and the Southland Conference.

At least we know this: the league is in a much better place now than it was three summers ago.