Burnett: Opportunity for Southland to raise its profile

Jim Gazzolo, Special to the American Press

When the final Southland Conference championship football trophy is handed out this year, the league will change forever.

Whether you think that is good depends on your perspective. One thing is for sure, it won’t be the same, which in a way makes the Southland the same as always.

With five teams exiting at the end of play this spring, the conference once again finds itself looking for answers to some of the same old questions. Stuck right in the middle of this is Tom Burnett, who has been the SLC commissioner since 2002.

This type of change is nothing new to the league, but it does seem more dramatic this time around.

“We have been through all this before,” Burnett said. “Maybe not this many at one time, which makes it look different.”

That is for sure as all of college sports has changed. But for a league with some 60 years of history to lose five of its teams in one offseason, it does hurt.

“We are losing great partners,” said Burnett, “but we also have some great teams left.”

The commissioner said the loss of the teams might hurt, but it did not come as a surprise. He also said it did not stem from the split in playing football last fall.

All Louisiana schools in the league opted out to play in the spring. The Texas schools were split, some deciding to play a few games and then come back in the spring.

Most of those fall games were for big money against larger programs.

“This all started to bubble before COVID back in last February,” Burnett said. “That is when it first surfaced. Then with COVID it was kind of put on the back burner.”

Talk picked up again in May and really hit full stride in October.

“That’s when this got really serious,” said Burnett, who added that the league tried to keep each of the teams — Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin and Central Arkansas.

“In the end they made their decision and we have to go in our direction.”

Which is?

“We have to find members that bring strategic development to the conference,” Burnett said. “That may be a lot of things, like traditionally good in athletics, or a good media market for us. It is up to the conference to find the right schools, ones that make good sense.”

In the past that has not always been the case. At times the league has looked like it was just desperately adding teams to get numbers up. Now it has a chance to make the right moves.

“This is a great opportunity for us,” Burnett said. “For the first time in a long time we have a lot of unity in the room (conference). I think we have a chance to come out of this much better.”Southland Conference commissioner Tom Burnett

Southland Conference

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