Ball in McNeese’s court

Story by Jim Gazzolo

With the Southland Conference on the verge of losing four to five of its biggest names, there will be a void in power programs.

It will be up to McNeese State to take over that void.

Football power Sam Houston State is leading a charge of four Texas schools leaving the Southland for the Western Athletic Conference. Rumors will become reality Thursday.

Sam Houston has 99 wins, the second most in the Football Championship Subdivision over the last decade. Stephen F. Austin has been a basketball power of late and Lamar has its own college hoops history. 

But that is all gone now, lost in an interesting move that shows just how much times are changing. With it comes an opportunity for McNeese to claim a spot atop the new Southland, or whatever it might be called.

It is time for the Cowboys to become the biggest fish in this shrinking pond. And they need to use that power to make sure they get what they need from their new relationships. 

What will become of the Southland is the story of what will become of McNeese State athletics. Forget all the talk and worry about wins and losses, this is about thinking ahead of the game, about looking at the future and making the right decision.

Athletic Director Heath Schroyer and President Daryl Burckel are on the clock, and in some ways under the gun. 

There is no right or wrong direction yet, but there is also no longer unlimited opportunities. These opportunities won’t keep coming.

This is not the first time McNeese has reached this crossroad. 

Louisiana-Lafayette left the SLC in 1982, Louisiana Tech in 1987 and Louisiana-Monroe in 2006. Tech has done fairly well all along, Lafayette started slowly but has caught on and Monroe has never really had success since leaving.

One could argue that McNeese was a better option to leave the Southland for greener (cash) pastures. It’s history and successes were above the others but always when push came to shove, school officials backed off. 

Better safe than sorry.

Truth is, the city of Lake Charles was different then, not ready to make a leap of faith. The school and it’s leaders were no different.

Hard to say if the move was right back at the time, but it does seem McNeese had missed a chance to become something much bigger.

Maybe timing is everything and now seems the right time to reconsider. 

Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana is different. It is more forward thinking, more invested in the community and more ready to play with the big boys. 

Again, don’t look at wins and losses, look at facilities. Quit looking where you are and look where you want to be.

Really, what is the option. We have seen all of the changes to the Southland and at some point McNeese could be left without a chair when the music finally does stop. That’s not what anybody wants.

Now with another slice of the Southland pie being carved out, you have to wonder what is keeping McNeese in a league that is stuck in neutral if not reverse.

“We are happy being in the Southland at the moment,” said Burckel.

One can read between those lines if they like.

There is one thing that must take place, McNeese must be in charge of its own future. It can not wait around to see what happens next. 

It has been left behind before. It is what has them looking around and wondering where has everybody gone. 

After talking and listening to school officials, and watching for some time, the new leadership at McNeese seems more willing than ever to at least look at those opportunities. It is what forward-thinking people do.

Until then, the school which has often seemed to be taken for granted by Southland officials which at least looked to be more interested in the Texas schools than those from Louisiana, must look and the landscape of college sports and see just where it fits in.

There is the transfer portal and new rules concerning player movement to consider. The future of paying players as well. And, of course, there is always the concern of finances.

McNeese must do what makes the most sense when it comes to spending. 

Change is never a bad thing if you make sure you are ready for what is next. 

The ball is clearly in McNeese’s hands now. No time to fumble. 

* Jim Gazzolo is the host of Eye on Sports for CBS-Lake Charles

Categories: McNeese State Sports, Sports