This is usually about the time where I post a preview of an upcoming conference opponent, but given today's news of Texas State and UTSA leaving the Southland to join the WAC, I decided to go a different route. I hope the good people at McNeese will forgive me. I will encourage all that are reading to show up at Johnson Coliseum tomorrow night at 7 PM for our penultimate match of the year.
I haven't had time to talk with many people yet about the Texas State/UTSA situation, so I'm sure my final opinion on this subject will be reached after additional discussion with others. However, blogs are made for sharing "in the moment" opinions as well as more cautioned and reasoned pieces. So, I admit this is my "first take" and so I hope these opinions won't be villanized given that confession.
My overall thought is that the move doesn't really affect the conference that much. It has been pointed out by several people that I did get a chance to talk to tonight that the Southland just gained Lamar in football and will only lose Texas State in football, since UTSA isn't currently playing pigskin in the SLC. Since "football is king", the effect on other sports will be trumped by the relatively neutral impact on football.
At least for now, I tend to agree with that.
The Southland will still have 10 members. For that reason, my immediate thought is that the conference should do nothing in response to Texas State and UTSA leaving.
If the conference went looking for replacements, there is some chance that we could woo some school athletically comparable to the 10 that remain or even upgrade. I think this chance is slim. What is more likely is that replacements would come from schools who currently compete in lesser conferences, are currently independent, or are looking to upgrade to DI. Now, you could get a gem from one of those places, but I don't think so. Again - siding with probability, I think the most likely thing is that if such schools were invited to join the conference, the result would be an overall downgrade in reputation.
So.. maybe the most prudent action is to be idle and continue, at least temporarily, as a 10 team conference. Of course, this assumes that none of these 10 schools plans in the near future to leave as well. Which - is at least an issue worth pondering, right? Is there going to be any form of chain reaction? I have no evidence that there will be, but it is a natural thought when schools leave conferences. It is well known that budget issues in Louisiana have spawned all sorts of rumours about Nicholls and/or Southeastern Louisiana not being long term viable as DI athletic programs anymore. This may only be rumor and have little actual substance, but I'd be lying if I didn't mention that I hear such talk around the conference many times a year.
What could the ramifications be for our sport - volleyball? The answer is so unbelievably obvious that it all but guarantees this won't be done: Just create a "Texas Division" - which now functions as the West comprised of SFA, Lamar, UTA, TAMUCC and SHSU. The other division - the East or "Louisiana/Arkansas" division could be NWLA, SELA, McNeese, Nicholls, and UCA.
It would seem a little silly to continue with an 8 team tournament with only 10 teams in conference. So, why not have a six team tournament where the winner of the two divisions get byes and the other top four teams are seeded three through six. For revenue purposes, we could still play the tournament over three days having #3 play #6 and #4 play #5 on Day 1 (rather than having four games like we do now). Then on Day 2, we'd have two games and then a championship on the final day.
From a volleyball perspective, Texas State and SFA have had many the rivalry game in recent years. Despite our current down year, that historical battle will be missed, I think. UTSA is having a good year in 2010 and they can use that as a launch toward moving to the WAC in two years. UTSA Volleyball over the last few years has been an average club, so their impact of leaving isn't quite the same as Texas State leaving - in terms of volleyball reputation,that is.
Of course, Texas State and UTSA become two obvious choices for non-conference games, because the conference schedule would more than likely be shortened if we go forward with just 10 teams. (Edit after initial post: ...or could we play everyone twice and the conference season expanded from 16 to 18 games? Travel costs probably shoot that down)
For now, I think my first reaction to today's news is neutral in terms of across-the-board impact, but slightly negative in terms of the effect on Southland Conference Volleyball. If I had to pick two teams to leave the conference without downgrading the conference's position in volleyball, these would not be the two I'd pick.