Southland welcomes two new members

Published 11:59 am Monday, July 1, 2024

July 1 has become the new moving day in college athletics and the Southland Conference is no different. 

While it won’t make as much noise as Texas and Oklahoma jumping to the SEC, or the four West Coast schools leaping into the Big Ten, the Southland also has reason to celebrate.

Monday the recently floundering league officially welcomed two new members, well one new and one old friend, as it continues to bounce back from the dark days of 2021.

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Texas-Rio Grande Valley and Stephen F. Austin became members of the Southland, bolting from the rival Western Athletic Conference just three summers after four schools left the SLC for the WAC.

The moves shift some power back to the Southland, which has been trying to grow its brand on the FCS and Mid-Major levels. 

SLC Commissioner Chris Grant has also talked about the league not sitting still now that it has 12 teams, nine of which will play football this fall. Rio Grande Valley is starting its football program in 2025. 

The current makeup gives the Southland seven teams based in Texas, and five in Louisiana. Before Monday the division was five in each state.

Grant would like to add at least two more if possible, which would allow the league to have a dozen football schools and then move the league into divisions. That, he hopes, could allow for a future possibility of a conference championship game, like the bigger conferences.

“We are not done yet,” Grant has said. “We are pushing the envelope and are excited to see what is coming next.”

The return of SFA is a big deal, for it was the Lumberjacks who helped lead the mass existence of three years ago. That was under a different administration and the move back shows just how much and quickly things are changing in college sports.

It also indicates just how much more attractive the Southland has become.

“It is not a comeback for us, we are in a new era,” Grant said in June when the SFA announcement was made. “We are essentially a new conference. We are here to compete. We are no longer looking at ourselves as a stepping stone.”

That remains to be seen, but the two additions restore some old rivalries and will create new ones for the conference. And the Southland becomes one of the rare leagues that plays in just one time zone.

“We want to be a shining star for the Southland Conference,” said SFA Athletic Director Michael McBroom. “It is always about getting better. When you are in a conference aligned with other athletic directors that want to get better, then we all get more valuable. 

But it is important we bring value to all other members.”

The addition of UTRGV was announced in March. 

“We look forward to forging new rivalries and celebrating remarkable academic achievements, a reflection of our shared commitment to excellence both on and off the field,” said UTRGV President Guy Bailey. “Together, we stand poised to elevate the standards of collegiate athletics while nurturing the academic aspirations of our student-athletes.”

As for the future, there has been talk that both Tarleton State and Abilene Christian have shown interest in leaving the WAC for the Southland as well. 

ACU was a former Southland member and there were some hard feelings when the school left for the WAC, like with SFA. That may slow any move. 

Tarleton has always shown more interest in moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision after previously testing the SLC waters. Both would likely love an invite from the Southland.

Grant has said that things have changed since he took over as SLC Commissioner in the spring of 2022. He claims his phone rings more with those interested in his league.

The only thing that is for sure, in today’s landscape more change is coming to both the Southland and the rest of college sports.