Serious challenges facing SLC, League trying to survive loss of five football members

Jim Gazzolo, Special to the American Press

On a day when what’s left of the Southland Conference football programs gathered to formally ring in the new season, commissioner Tom Burnett proclaimed the league’s best days are still to come.

He did it with a straight face though he also appeared to be standing on his last leg.

Burnett opened the Southland’s football media day Thursday not two months after the mass exodus of almost half his football-playing schools. Five of the league’s 11 football programs jumped ship after the close of competition last spring, leaving just six to take part in the league’s public relations day at the Houston Hilton Post Oak.

“I would much rather not be up here talking about membership, but none of us get to choose our own reality,” Burnett said. “I hate to disappoint you but there is no breaking news today on any new members.

“We believe there are great opportunities ahead for our membership. There are opportunities within our challenges.”

What exactly those opportunities are were never explained.

The challenges are obvious. As the new football season approaches, the Southland is clearly left with more questions than answers. Rumors continue to circulate about teams looking for their own life rafts.

Nobody wants to be the last one standing when the music stops for the Southland.

“We have experienced membership change in the past and we will likely in the future,” said Burnett. “That is a part of the college sports landscape. We are not the only conference going through this.”

The Southland is the only one that seems to be searching for new members and having a hard time finding takers. Others are talking expansion, the SLC looks more like it is in survival mode.

“It is important that we move as quick as we can,” said Burnett.

The commissioner admitted that there are no teams ready to make any announcement about moving into the league. He did say there have been talks with a couple of schools and more are expected.

It is likely that the Southland is looking more to adding teams attempting to move up from Division II rather than get other Division I Football Championship Subdivision programs to move over.

This seems to be more of the way the SLC has done business in the past. That has made for some questionable moves when it has come to adding teams.

“Over the next 30 or 60 days we will have a better picture of what this will look like in the future,” said Burnett. “We want to move as quick as we can.”

Burnett added that that league wants to remain one that plays regional competition, a subtle poke at the five teams that left the conference this year. Four from Texas joined the Western Athletic Conference while Central Arkansas headed to the Atlantic Sun.

All will have to travel a distance to play conference games.

“We want to continue to be a regional conference,” Burnett said. “We are the only Division I league that plays only in the central time zone.

“We will continue to compete where we live. We feel that is the best academically for our athletes, best for our schools, for our players and for our fans.”

The commissioner said he wants to have eight football-playing schools. Right now the league has just six with two others for a total of eight. Six is the least a league can have to earn an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs.

In other words, Burnett needs to right the ship before it sinks or the Southland may have few days ahead.

 
 

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Southland Conference Commissioner Tom Burnett speaks about the future of the conference during Thursday’s media day in Houston.

Special to the American Press

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