HAMMOND – The landscape of the Southland Conference is changing, but Southeastern Louisiana athletic director Jay Artigues doesn’t see that as a bad thing.
On Thursday, the Western Athletic Conference announced four Southland Conference schools – Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State, Abilene Christian and Lamar – would be joining the WAC on July 1, 2022, while Central Arkansas announced plans to move to the Atlantic Sun Conference later this year.
The WAC is planning to resume football on the FCS level for the 2022 season.
“This is part of it,” Artigues said, noting the moves were part of the discussion during the SLC’s athletic director’s meeting in Frisco, Texas, last week. “You see teams in and out of conferences all the time. I’ll tell you, though, coming out of that meeting, it’s probably the most unified I’ve seen this conference in my 16 years in it. It’s really encouraging, really exciting. I think we’re heading in a great direction, under our commissioner, Tom Burnett. After visiting with all the ADs and seeing some of the plans and seeing the potential in the conference, I’m really excited about it. I think sometimes people get a little nervous with change, but change is a good thing.”
The moves leave the Southland Conference with six schools – Southeastern, Nicholls State, McNeese State, Northwestern State, Houston Baptist and Incarnate Word – playing football. The University of New Orleans and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi are non-football members of the conference.
In order to receive an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs in football, a conference must have a minimum of six schools, per the NCAA.
The Southland Conference also announced it is working with Eastman & Beaudine, Inc., “to assist the league’s presidential Board of Directors in its plan to strategically and aggressively review the future alignment of the association, including formulating a process to examine new regional membership possibilities,” a release earlier this week from the Southland Conference said.
“When you start adding teams, I think it’s going to be at least one year into the future,” Artigues said. “I think you could see them maybe the following year. I’m not exact on those teams yet. That hasn’t been released or even finalized yet, but I know (the SLC is) reaching out to different schools that have been wanting to join the Southland Conference.”
“The Southland’s got a strong, strong tradition of success, and there’s several schools that want to join it, but for the immediate future next year, it’s (an) eight-team conference with six football schools, which could create some excitement and creativity the way we’re going to be doing the football schedule …,” Artigues continued, noting Southeastern’s football schedule, which he said will feature 11 games this fall, should be released in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, the Lions began preparations for the upcoming spring football season Friday. Southeastern opens a six-game Southland Conference-only football schedule at Sam Houston State on Feb. 27.
“Playing those six games, I’m excited about it because it’s a lot of unknowns,” Artigues said. “How is football going to be in the spring time? We don’t know because it’s never been done, but we’re looking forward to it. It presents some optimism when you start talking about the potential to be on TV because there’s no other football played in the spring except FCS, so there’s a lot of excitement, and we’re anxious to see what happens.”
It's part of the challenge as Southeastern’s 16 athletic programs will be competing during the spring semester after fall sports were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The conference also announced earlier this week the full reinstatement of postseason participation after announcing previously some tournament fields would be reduced because of COVID-19. The SLC’s baseball, softball, women’s tennis, volleyball and soccer tournament were set to feature the top four regular-season finishers with games and matches at the No. 1 seeds. Tournament fields will move back to eight teams “and will likely return to the predetermined sites if workable on such short notice,” a release from the conference said.
“There’s going to be excitement for everybody,” Artigues said. “There’s challenges that arise with this COVID, and every day things change, and we have to adapt, but I’ll tell you what, from (Southeastern president) Dr. (John) Crain on down, our entire staff has done a super, super job – our coaches, our athletes – of adapting and making those adjustments on the fly.”
Artigues said Southeastern’s baseball team will play a 56-game schedule that is still changing and hasn’t been released yet. He also said SLU will be announcing its ticket plan for all sports in the next week or two.
“Obviously, we’re going to have adapt ticket-wise,” Artigues said. “As the state changes their protocol day-to-day, we’ll be adjusting our protocol with it.”
For Artigues, it’s about getting the university’s athletes in all sports back into competition.
“Athletes train to compete,” Artigues said. “They don’t train to train, and it’s time for these kids to get out there and start competing.”