By Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
NATCHITOCHES — Northwestern State University President Dr. Chris Maggio said Thursday the departure of five schools from the Southland Conference “will create challenges but also opportunities for NSU’s athletic program.”
Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, Lamar and Abilene Christian officially announced this week that they will leave the Southland to join the Western Athletic Conference. Central Arkansas stated earlier that it would move from the Southland to the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Maggio, who will serve this year as Chairman of the Southland Conference Board of Directors, said the league “will retain eight highly respected current members and has initiated a process that will lead to future expansion of the conference.”
With the departure later this year of current members of the league for other affiliations, the Southland will be comprised of five Louisiana institutions and three Texas universities. Remaining in the Southland along with Northwestern will be McNeese, Nicholls, New Orleans, Southeastern Louisiana, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Incarnate Word and Houston Baptist.
Maggio said Southland Conference Commissioner Tom Burnett and presidents, athletic directors and other personnel at conference schools – in collaboration with Eastman & Beaudine, Inc., a trusted and recognized leader in executive search and athletics consulting services – “have already laid the groundwork to expand, reimagine and enhance the Southland.”
He said league schools “are united and extremely proud of the brand, image and history of our schools and conference. We are excited about this new potential for growth and an even stronger reputation and impact on intercollegiate athletics in our geographic footprint and across the nation. Other schools are already expressing interest in membership.”
NSU Director of Athletics Greg Burke said the university “has enjoyed and benefitted from its relationship over the years with schools that are leaving the Southland. Our conference affiliation with those institutions resulted in quality athletic competition and lasting friendships.”
Burke said membership shifts and realignments in college athletic conferences have been an ongoing occurrence nationwide.
“Membership transitions often allow for self-assessment as well as the opportunity to attract new members and, ultimately, land in an even better position of strength and stability,” Burke said.
He noted eight of the 13 current members of the Southland Conference have joined the league since 1987 when Northwestern became affiliated with the Southland and 10 other schools that were in the Southland earlier have moved to other conferences.
“That membership pattern reflects the resilience and adaptability of the Southland Conference since it was established nearly 60 years ago,” Burke said, “and all of us who remain in the league look forward to an even brighter future for the conference.
“We are fortunate to have an experienced, dedicated commissioner like Tom Burnett, and athletic personnel at our schools are eager to work with him, our presidents, consultants and others in moving toward expansion and a great new vision for the Southland.”