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College sports roundup

Southland Conference postpones fall sports.

After much deliberation, the Southland Conference has postponed league competition in all of its fall sports with the intent of playing a football season in the spring of 2021 due to concerns over COVID-19.

The Southland will, however, allow teams to play nonconference games if they choose.

Houston Baptist, for example, plans on playing its three scheduled nonconference football games this fall, including at Texas Tech. HBU’s other nonconference opponents are North Texas and Louisiana Tech.

The Huskies also will participate in nonconference games in volleyball and women’s soccer.

[…]

Sam Houston State will not try to play any sports in the fall, but Stephen F. Austin said it would.

HBU will play three opponents (North Texas, Texas Tech, and Louisiana Tech) who will pay them for the game. That’s one way to mitigate the financial hit for this.

West Coast Conference postpones fall sports.

Keeping in line with many other leagues around the country, the West Coast Conference, which includes BYU, announced Thursday that it has postponed all conference fall competition due to the coronavirus pandemic and is looking at ways to compete in the spring.

The decision was reached by the WCC Presidents’ Council after consulting with the league’s 10 athletic directors and commissioner Gloria Nevarez over the past several weeks.

This move impacts women’s volleyball, soccer, men’s cross-country and women’s cross-country. But it doesn’t affect men’s and women’s basketball, which is scheduled to tip off in November.

The conference “remains fully committed and continues to work closely with campus leadership on plans to ensure a safe environment to conduct the 2020-21 WCC men’s and women’s basketball seasons in the winter,” according to league officials. “The conference intends to explore various models for conducting WCC competition in the fall sports of men’s and women’s cross-country, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball in the spring of 2021. The WCC strongly supports efforts to encourage the National Collegiate Athletic Association to conduct fall NCAA championships in the spring.”

The WCC includes Gonzaga, so you can understand the desire to play basketball.

Southern Conference postpones fall sports.

VMI will not play Virginia nor any other football team this fall.

The Southern Conference announced Thursday that it is postponing its fall sports season until next spring because of the coronavirus pandemic. SoCon presidents voted on the matter Thursday afternoon.

Although SoCon games are moving to the spring, the conference is permitting its teams to still play nonleague games this fall.

But VMI decided not to exercise that option. So the Keydets will not play their scheduled game at UVa on Sept. 11.

“We made the decision, our CEOs did, regarding fall moving to spring, and we support that and believe it’s in the best interest of our cadet athletes to shift things to the [spring],” VMI athletic director Dave Diles said Thursday in a phone interview. “And therefore [VMI] didn’t feel it was the right thing to have any additional parts separated from that decision.”

VMI would have received $375K to play UVa.

Horizon League postpones fall sports.

The Horizon League has canceled sports this fall.

On Thursday afternoon, the league announced it has postponed all competition for fall sports. Among the schools in the Horizon League are Detroit Mercy and Oakland.

In total, 10 sports have been canceled, including men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s golf, baseball, softball, men’s tennis and women’s volleyball.

The league said any decision to move fall sports competition to the spring will be made at a later date. Individual schools will implement their own rules involving team workouts, in accordance with NCAA and state guidelines.

The Horizon League had previously voted to delay the start of the fall sports season until October 1.

Big Sky and Western Athletic Conferences postpone fall sports.

There won’t be any sports competitions this fall in either the Big Sky Conference or Western Athletic Conference due to health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both leagues made their announcements Thursday and are looking at the possibility of moving fall competition to the spring. It impacts four Utah colleges: Weber State and Southern Utah in the Big Sky, and Utah Valley and Dixie State in the WAC.

The Big Sky had previously announced it would postpone the league’s conference competition in football this fall, and Thursday’s news confirms there won’t be any nonconference play in any sport. The decision also impacts Big Sky competition in sports like men’s and women’s cross-country, soccer and volleyball that compete for their championships in the fall, as well as those in their nonchampionship portion of the season, including men’s and women’s golf, softball, men’s and women’s tennis.

[…]

The Big Sky punted making a decision on when the league’s winter sports — men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s indoor track and field — could start competition.

The WAC’s fall championship sports impacted include men’s and women’s cross-country, volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer. The league also said the earliest possible competition date for sports in the nonchampionship portion of their season is Jan. 1, 2021, affecting men’s and women’s golf, baseball, and softball.

The WAC will discuss winter athletics competition at a later date, while saying competition in men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s swimming and diving competition will be postponed through the end of October.

All of these conferences are FCS; the WAC used to be FBS, but dropped football after lots of schools moved to other conferences. Also, FCS school New Mexico State postponed its fall sports, becoming the third independent FCS school to do so, following the University of Connecticut and the University of Massachusetts. They all join the Big 10 and the PAC 12 in sitting it out for now, leaving the fall to the Big 12, SEC, and ACC

I don’t know what other FCS conferences there are out there, but for now at least this is what we’re going to get. I’m still quite skeptical that these three Power 5 conferences, plus the non-P5 FCS schools that are still in, can do this safely, but they’re going to try. And who knows, maybe they can. Sean Pendergast makes the case that the conferences that postponed were the foolish ones.

Regular students are coming back to campus anyway
At many of these schools, particularly in the Big Ten, regular students are actually returning to on campus classes this month. Yes, thousands of kids on campus, left to determine social distances and left for us to trust their masking policies. Football players at those schools will now be spending MORE time near the rest of those students. Also, if the Big Ten schools with student returning to campus are THAT concerned about COVID-19, to where they re canceling football, then why on earth are they bringing students back? It makes no sense.

Players in the SEC, ACC, and Big XII will have better access to testing and medical care
When they ultimately nail down hard and fast protocols, it is widely assumed that the SEC, ACC, and Big XII will obviously have some sort of regular testing for COVID-19. This, along with the access to top notch medical staff and facilities, make the players at those schools the most cared-for college students anywhere when it comes to COVID-19. Between frequent testing, the structure of a football regimen, and great doctors, you could argue the safest students in the country are the football players of the SEC, ACC, and Big XII. I feel for the Big Ten and Pac-12 kids who are now left without testing, and many of them being sent back to their hometowns, where depending on their family’s healthcare coverage, it’s hit or miss as to just how protected they are from the coronavirus.

Athletic departments budgets are about to be plundered, say goodbye to non-revenue sports
It would be naive to ignore the fiscal suicide being committed by the Big Ten and the Pac-12, who stand to lose tens of million of dollars by canceling the 2020 football season, basically out of fear — fear of bad press, fear of future litigation, fear of whatever. It’s why I wanted to establish first that the student-athletes in the conferences PLAYING football are actually safer from COVID-19, so my argument doesn’t appear mercenary. Big Ten schools pocket over $50 million per year from the Big Ten Network ALONE. Athletic departments stand to drown in a sea of red ink approaching nine figures. Non-revenue sports, basically everything that’s not football and basketball, that provide scholarship opportunities for literally thousands of kids, many female and minorities, are going to die under a financial guillotine when this is all said and done.

Playing a spring season is actually MORE dangerous than playing in the fall
Here is perhaps the least logical part of the whole thing — the Big Ten and Pac-12 are reportedly wanting to play in the spring. So this would mean playing a football season, which I’m assuming is a minimum of eight games, starting in, say March. This would run through May. Training camp for the fall season, assuming there’s a COVID vaccine and/or therapeutic medicine, would begin in July. That’s LESS than two months between seasons. Seasons of FOOTBALL. This is beyond malpractice, and far more abusive than any sort of exposure players would have to COVID-19. It seems that everyone wanting to cancel football, stuck in their coronavirus fetal position, conveniently forget that they’ve been watching and enjoying a sport for years that includes the risk of permanent head trauma.

Maybe! I think #3 is a legitimate concern, and #4 is a concern for a different reason, which I’ve seen expressed elsewhere: You’re moving football games from October and November to January and February, which are a lot colder and have more snow. That’s not great for a variety of reasons. Multiple football programs have had COVID outbreaks among their players already, some bigger than others, and I have plenty of doubts that the coaches, ADs, and whoever else is making these decisions has any idea what they’re going to do if a team has a similar outbreak during the season. And Lord help us if they all insist on having fans in attendance. I will readily admit, moving these sports to the spring has its share of risks and downsides. But let’s not underestimate the risk of staying the course.

Texas State to the Sun Belt

The conference carousel is still spinning.

The Sun Belt said Wednesday that Texas State will join the league in July 2013 and begin conference play for the 2013-14 academic year.

Texas State is going into its first season at the Football Bowl Subdivision level in 2012, when coach Dennis Franchione will lead the Bobcats into what will be their only WAC season. The school has 16 varsity programs.

“There was energy and excitement,” said Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson, who attended a press conference announcing the move. “Truly a very, very successful launch.”

Texas State joins current Sun Belt Conference members Arkansas State, Arkansas-Little Rock, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, UL-Lafayette, UL-Monroe, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, South Alabama, Troy and Western Kentucky.

Benson, who used to be the WAC commissioner, says there may be more changes coming for the Sun Belt. With New Mexico State set to join as well, and other WAC members headed to the Mountain West and Conference USA, the WAC may cease to exist after this season. Quite a fall from the brief glory of the WAC-16, which I still think could have been a great conference if it had been given a chance. Ah well, the road not taken and all that. As with UTSA, I wish Texas State well. I think they have a bright future.

UTSA to C-USA

According to reports.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source confirmed that the Roadrunners would be among a group of schools joining C-USA. The same source said UTSA had also received invitations from the Mountain West and Sun Belt conferences.

The Mountain West and C-USA are in the process of joining their 16 existing members in some fashion after losing multiple schools.

Several sources have identified North Texas, Florida International and Louisiana Tech as leading candidates to join C-USA, which will lose SMU, Houston, Central Florida and Memphis to the Big East.

There is also strong speculation that Utah State is the top choice to join the MWC.

UTSA is slated to join the Western Athletic Conference on July 1 for its second season of football. But it will be an unexpectedly short stay now that C-USA, which UTSA identified as its dream destination when the football program was approved in December 2008, has warmed up to the Roadrunners.

They had received a cool reception initially, when Hickey first approached commissioner Britton Banowsky in 2009 about the possibility of joining.

Then came last winter, when the two rekindled informal talks after the Big East gutted C-USA. But multiple sources said it wasn’t until recently, when C-USA began its evaluation process in earnest, that UTSA’s stock began to rise.

A C-USA athletic director, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Roadrunners stood out largely because of their location in a major Texas market and their long-term potential after averaging 35,521 fans at the Alamodome last season to set a start-up record.

Said a MWC athletic director, also speaking anonymously: “It’s Texas football. You can’t go wrong, especially with that market.”

I thought C-USA was the better fit for UTSA from the beginning. The C-USA they’ll be joining is different than it was when I first said that, but it’s still a good fit for them. I expect these guys to have a pretty solid program overall in a few years’ time.

Memphis to Big East

It’s what they’ve always wanted.

At long last, Memphis is part of the Big East.

The Tigers officially accepted an invitation to be part of the conference’s next incarnation in 2013, the conference said Wednesday. Memphis is the seventh school, and fourth from Conference USA, to sign up for future membership in the Big East since December. The Tigers will compete in the Big East in all sports.

Memphis has been trying to upgrade its conference affiliation for years, and the Big East was always the most likely landing spot. The Tigers were snubbed during the Big East’s last massive expansion in 2005 and lost a longtime rivalry with Louisville in the process.

Now with the Big East rebuilding again and eventually in need replacements for West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, there was finally room for Memphis.

[…]

Memphis gives the Big East 11 football teams committed for the 2013 season, still one short of the 12 needed under NCAA rules to hold a conference championship game — though the league could ask the NCAA for a waiver to play a title game with less than 12 teams. Plus, there’s no guarantee some of the holdovers, such as Louisville, Rutgers and Connecticut, won’t jump at the chance to join another league if the opportunity comes up.

And it’s still unclear when West Virginia, Pitt and Syracuse will leave. Big East bylaws require a 27-month notification period for schools that want to leave and commissioner John Marinatto has said he intends to make the departing schools honor that. West Virginia has filed a lawsuit to begin competing in the Big 12 in the fall. The Big East has countersued and Pitt and Syracuse are watching the cases closely as it could determine when they start playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

It’s possible the Big East could have 14 football teams and 20 basketball teams in 2013.

Good luck planning the 2013 schedule. I kind of suspect that the current litigation will reach a settlement of some kind before then. Be that as it may, I don’t think this changes that much. The Big East is still an odd, geographically-disparate assortment of schools that is now stronger in basketball but not football.

As for the conference Memphis is leaving behind, the pending CUSA/MWC merger is still on.

Conference USA’s board of directors will meet later this week to discuss the possibility of a full-scale merger with the Mountain West Conference, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

The prospect of a merger was already on the meeting agenda, even before C-USA member Memphis was on the verge of joining the Big East, the source said.

[…]

In the past year, C-USA members Houston, SMU and Central Florida accepted invitations to join the Big East in 2013-14.

That, along with Memphis’ pending departure, would leave C-USA with eight members: Southern Miss, Tulsa, Marshall, Rice, UAB, Tulane, East Carolina and UTEP.

The Mountain West is adding Nevada and Fresno State from the Western Athletic Conference for all sports and Hawaii in football. But the MWC is losing San Diego State to the Big East in football and the Big West for all other sports; Boise State to the Big East in football and the WAC in other sports; and TCU to the Big 12.

That means in 2013-14, the MWC would have eight football members, including Hawaii, and seven in all sports: UNLV, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado State, Air Force, Fresno State and Nevada.

A merger between C-USA and the MWC could consist of a conference with its current 2013-14 membership of 15 in all sports and 16 in football.

I want to point out that ten of those schools – Rice, Tulsa, UTEP, and all of the MWC schools except Nevada – were once part of the WAC16. Party like it’s 1996, y’all! In all seriousness, I don’t think that’s a terrible outcome. I just don’t think that any outcome right now should be seen as anything but a stopgap until the next round of changes comes along.

UTA and UTSA

UT Arlington is moving up in the collegiate athletic world.

The University of Texas System Board of Regents [Thursday] approved UTA joining the Western Athletic Conference beginning July 1, 2012.

UTA has been a charter member of the Southland Conference since 1963, but it is leaving the Texas-Louisiana-Arkansas based league for a conference with a much broader geographical reach and that is a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A).

UTA disbanded its football program after the 1985 season and its admittance into the WAC was not conditioned on restarting the sport, but the WAC’s membership in the FBS will mean higher conference revenues UTA can draw from.

There’s been talk about UTA reviving its football program for some time now. I haven’t seen any updates lately, but certainly a conference upgrade could help spur things on. Whether that turns out to be a good thing for them or not remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, UTA’s fellow Southland Conference-to-WAC school UTSA will be starting up football this fall, and they have grand plans to draw crowds.

Always careful to avoid painting herself into a corner, UTSA athletic director Lynn Hickey repeatedly demurred when asked to predict what kind of crowd the Roadrunners might draw for their inaugural football game on Sept. 3 at the Alamodome.

Finally, however, her guard slipped when asked if luring 30,000 fans was a reasonable expectation.

“At least,” Hickey said. “I think we’ll have more. I think we’ll have an outstanding first crowd.”

And then the real challenge will begin.

As the story notes, every new entrant into the world of college football started out with a much bigger crowd than it finished its first season with. I expect UTSA will have similar issues – Lord knows, their home schedule lacks anything resembling a big name – but in the end I do expect them to do well. San Antonio is an enormous underserved market for football, and the Alamodome is a fine facility. It may take them awhile, but UTSA should have all the ingredients they need to make their mark on the sport.

UTSA and TSU officially join the WAC

Welcome to the FBS, y’all.

Separated by roughly 35 miles of I-35, UTSA and Texas State have long been adversaries — for victories, for attention, for prestige.
Heated enough as it is, their rivalry became even more contentious on Thursday, with both schools accepting invitations to join the Western Athletic Conference.

“This is a great first step for us,” UTSA athletic director Lynn Hickey said. “We know there are going to be challenges for all our sports, building our program, but this is the right thing to do.”

“It’s surreal,” Texas State athletic director Dr. Larry Teis said. “Everybody wanted this, and the fact that it’s happened, and happened this fast, is great. You just feel an air of confidence.”

The University of Denver will also be added, in all sports but football, forming a motley cavalry to relieve the impending departures of Boise State (after this school year), Fresno State and Nevada (after 2011-12).

[…]

The three schools’ memberships will be effective on July 1, 2012, with one significant issue to be resolved — the date of inclusion for UTSA’s football program.

Hickey and head coach Larry Coker said their preference is to delay joining until at least 2013.

But Benson has said his league must add two football programs by 2012, just one year after the Roadrunners are scheduled to begin play in 2011.

Yes, UTSA hasn’t actually played a down of football yet. They’re not wasting any time in the shallower end of the pool, that’s for sure. Given that San Antonio is currently the largest city in America without an FBS program, and that the Roadrunners will play their home games at the Alamodome, UTSA is arguably already the biggest fish in the WAC. No pressure, none at all.

More from the Statesman:

For Texas State and UT-San Antonio, the jump to the WAC should mean more national exposure, along with more travel, more expenses and some competitive challenges.

“The campus is very excited ,” said UT-San Antonio’s president, Ricardo Romo. Romo said San Antonio is the largest city in America without a Football Bowl Subdivision football program, “so the city is excited.”

[…]

Texas State has never quite been able to recapture its football magic of the early 1980s, when Wacker’s teams won back-to-back NCAA Division II championships. But the school’s teams have been improving recently as Texas State also expands Bobcat Stadium, which could soon seat 30,000.

Instead of traveling in state and to Louisiana and Arkansas for conference games, UT-San Antonio and Texas State, once they join the WAC, will fly to far-flung locations . The WAC will stretch from Moscow, Idaho, to San Antonio and from Ruston, La., to Honolulu.

“Flying to Hawaii is a little different than busing to Huntsville,” [Texas State athletic director Larry] Teis said. “I’ve already told our coaches that for our nonconference games, we need to stay grounded. There’s enough competition around here.”

Teis mentioned UT as a possible opponent — even in football. “I’d love to (play Texas), down the road,” he said .

When you’re ready to reduce that travel schedule a bit, just remember that Conference USA actually has Texas-based universities in it. Assuming that the Big East hasn’t caused it to break apart by that time, of course. Be that as it may, best of luck to both schools.

Conference realignment isn’t just for the big boys

Expect to see a lot of smaller fish moving around now that the dust in the big conferences has mostly settled.

[Southland Conference] commissioner Tom Burnett told the San Antonio Express News last week that he expected Texas State and UTSA to eventually leave the Football Championship Subdivision and bolt for the WAC, which is scrambling for survival in the aftermath of losing Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada to the Mountain West Conference.

His position remains unchanged.

“When you look at what the WAC is faced with and what they need to do to essentially ensure their existence in the future, they need football programs, and they need them right now,” Burnett said. “Texas State and UTSA have made it very clear that this is something that they want in their future, and they have not only said that but have acted on it.

“They have put money or soon will into tremendous growth in their athletic departments, facilities, scholarships, staffing, all of that which will lead them to have the ability to play in the Football Bowl Subdivision.”

Here’s that Express-News story, which has a lot more detail. The SLC is an FCS conference, so this will be a step up in more ways than one for UTSA and Texas State. UTSA hasn’t even played a game yet, which in addition to the bump in conference level means the timeline is uncertain. As I’ve said before, as things stand now I think C-USA is the best geographic fit for these schools, but who knows what C-USA may look like in a few years’ time.