Conference Chess Match

Rick Sarro Friday, October 8, 2021 Comments Off on Conference Chess Match
Conference Chess Match

A full dose of college football games is played on the field every week. While those games are seen and known about, there are more than a few games of sorts being waged behind closed doors in the back rooms of many conferences around the country.

The players in these games are wearing suits and ties and carrying briefcases instead of helmets and shoulder pads. Believe me, these affairs and meetings are just as important as the official games and will have a bigger impact on the future of some collegiate programs than their Saturday final scores.

Conference realignments and the game within the game of adding and subtracting teams has been going on for decades now.

The once renowned Southwest Conference dissolved into the Big 8, which morphed into the Big 12.

Some members of the Southwest/Big 12 jumped ship to join the SEC (Arkansas, Texas A&M, Missouri).

The Big 10 absorbed the likes of Nebraska (2011), Maryland and Rutgers (2014) and Penn State (1990) to up its member count to 14.

The Big East and the ACC have gone through enough changes over the years that their school roster needs to be written in pencil.  

The Southland Conference has not been immune to change. Remember the league was once home to USL (now UL-Lafayette), Northeast La. (now UL-Monroe), UT-Arlington, La. Tech, Arkansas State, Troy State, Jacksonville State, Texas State and, most recently, Lamar, Sam Houston, Central Arkansas and Stephen F. Austin, to name a few.

The SEC, the country’s strongest and richest athletic conference, made the biggest splash in recent memory by luring and adding Big 12 stalwarts Texas and Oklahoma over the summer.

The Longhorns and Sooners were the flagships and power brokers of the old Southwest/Big 8/Big 12 conference.   It was blasphemy in the Red River region and beyond that Texas and Oklahoma would bolt the Big 12 for the SEC.

Media rights, billion-dollar TV contracts and the prospect of being in college football’s top dog league was just too much for Texas and Oklahoma to ignore. Secrets and mega-deals in professional or college sports are hard to keep under wraps. But apparently, the athletic directors, school presidents and administrators in Austin and Norman were more adept at keeping things undercover than the CIA and Mossad combined.

The Big 12 knew nothing of the Longhorns’ and Sooners’ clandestine talks with SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey over the summer. The news of the defections blindsided Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby so hard he must have thought he had been run over by Bevo and the Boomer Sooner wagon all at once.

I offer this brief backdrop and history of college football’s boardroom chess match to outline how even more conference realignments may involve McNeese in the coming months.  

The recent moves involving the Big 12 and American Athletic Conference may, and I stress may, have an impact on McNeese’s future in the Southland.

You may have seen that Bowlsby and the Big 12 did not sit idly on the sideline after he was stung by the defections of Texas and Oklahoma. Bowlsby has been courting teams he and the Big 12 school presidents wanted to join their ranks.

Official Big 12 invitations were accepted by Brigham Young, Houston, Cincinnati and Central Florida. Those four will join the revamped Big 12 no later than July, 2024. All but BYU, a football independent, are coming over from the American Athletic Conference.

When the dust finally settles, the Irving, Texas-based AAC, considered the best conference in the Group of 5, will soon have only nine entrenched member schools. They include Tulane, SMU, Tulsa, East Carolina, Connecticut, Memphis, South Florida, Temple and Wichita State.

With the notion that bigger is now better in college conferences, you can bet the AAC will want to increase to 12 or 14 schools with two divisions going forward.

I think AAC future moves and plans may come around and involve McNeese in an offhand way. I will explain, so stay with me here.

It’s believed that by the end of September, McNeese school President Dr. Daryl Burckel and Athletic Director Heath Schroyer will be prepared to make an official pitch and presentation to the Western Athletic Conference to open talks for McNeese to join the WAC.

It is well known that both Burckel and Schroyer are not happy with the current state of the Southland Conference, and probably feel the departure of Sam Houston, Lamar, Abilene Christian, Stephen F. Austin and Central Arkansas is a deathknell for the SLC.

Burckel has being saying for months now that he supports the Southland up to the point when it’s no longer good for McNeese. He and Schroyer have stated time and again that they will do what’s best for McNeese’s future — wherever that takes them.

And it may take them to the WAC. There is a high probability of it. Remaining in the Southland is a very low probability, in my opinion.

I have been pushing the notion of McNeese joining the Sun Belt Conference for more than 10 years now. The effort would require that the university get off their collective keisters and seriously work toward moving up from the FCS to the FBS.

UL-Lafayette made the jump to the Sun Belt 30 years ago, and Coastal Carolina did the same in 2016. And look at them now. Both ended last season and started this football season ranked in the Top 25 nationally.

I mentioned those two programs because I have a strong suspicion that both Louisiana and Coastal Carolina will pursue opportunities in the AAC, and I think the league will be very interested in their joining.

Now how does that affect McNeese?

I have been pushing the notion of McNeese joining the Sun Belt Conference for more than 10 years now. The effort would require that the university get off their collective keisters and seriously work toward moving up from the FCS to the FBS.
McNeese quarterback Cody Orgeron, MSU Photo

If Louisiana and Coastal Carolina make the move, then the Sun Belt will be down to nine football-playing programs and will be searching for replacement schools.

And McNeese would be a perfect fit culturally, size-wise, and with its history with some current Sun Belt schools and its winning tradition.

Most of all, there’s an obvious geographic alignment with UL-Monroe, Texas State, South Alabama and Arkansas State. Toss in McNeese and you have a ready-made Eastern Division to go with a Western Division of Troy, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Appalachian State and another addition.

I will admit I have no inside track or sources that confirm that the AAC has any interest in Louisiana or Coastal Carolina, but they would be foolish not to be.

Furthermore, I have no inside information or reliable sources who state that Louisiana and Coastal Carolina have any interest in the AAC. But they would be equally foolish not to be.

It’s just my theory — or better yet my wish — that this falls into place in the ongoing conference chess matches that seem to be changing college athletics weekly. 

I have said all along that a path to the Sun Belt Conference is the best option for McNeese athletics as a whole for all the reasons I stated earlier and a few more, like travel budgets, fan recognition and acceptance.

 It would behoove Burckel and Schroyer to do what McNeese should have done 10, 15 or even 20 years ago, and open up a dialogue with Sun Belt officials and explore any possibility for a future together. If they are smart, which I know they are, some form of communication should already be in the works.

There is no harm or shame in having secret, back office phone calls, emails or meetings with the Sun Belt while McNeese gauges any interest from the WAC at the same time.

That’s how the game is played.

Catch Rick Sarro’s sports commentary Soundoff on CBS Lake Charles Tuesday and Thursday nights at 10:05 pm. Saturdays at 6:30 and 11 pm. Also nightly at 9 pm on SuddenLink Cable.  

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