Moving time for McNeese

written by Jim Gazzolo

There it was, live on television, in the middle of the day, McNeese could look and see it’s future…Maybe.

In the strangest of football seasons this was a sight unthinkable before last Saturday. 

Yet there it was, a nationally televised game being played on the campus of Coastal Carolina. No, this wasn’t some ESPN 3 streaming game against an unknown location school. 

This was on a main football channel against a nationally known and ranked opponent with more than a little of its own history. 

Coastal Carolina, which entered the game ranked No. 16 nationally, was playing against also ranked BYU in a game scheduled just days before. It was a replacement game for another top 25 foe, Liberty.

That’s right, only in 2020 could Liberty and Coastal Carolina be scheduled in a ranking showdown only to see one team forced out by Covid-19 and replaced by BYU. 

Hey McNeese fans were you watching?

This could be the future for the Cowboys. It probably should be their present. 

Coastal Carolina is the latest former Football Championship Subdivision program to find success at the next level. It joins Appalachian State, Louisiana-Lafayette and even Liberty in making the move and cracking the national rankings. 

However, the Chanticleers are much, much different. Unlike some of the others, the history of Coastal Carolina football does not run very deep. In fact it barely covers one’s toes.

The school’s first football season came in 2003, where it was hardly a power, going just 4-6 in playoff competition. It didn’t move up to the top division until 2017 and was nothing more than a footnote until this odd fall.

Yet there were the Chanticleers, hosting a national power on a major network. This was such a big deal that ESPN sent it’s Gameday morning boys to town. That is called exposure folks. 

Think of the great story McNeese could have given the country on that day, of a city and area not only surviving a storm but already rebuilding. Granted it’s not much for people still homeless from a summer of pain, but it is those types of feel-good stories which makes sports matter. 

We are not talking about a pipe dream here. This keeps happening. 

Coastal doesn’t have a huge stadium — Brooks Stadium holds just 20,000 — or a great history like McNeese. The Cowboys played in the first Independence Bowl and go back years before that with winning games. 

Lake Charles is much bigger than Conway, South Carolina, roughly three times the size actually. Even if you add Myrtle Beach, which is 29 miles away from the campus, Lake Charles is bigger. 

So what did Coastal Carolina have that McNeese didn’t?

Thinking aggressively about the future seems to be the biggest deal. In a culture where you are either moving forward or falling behind, college football is racing past the Cowboys, and thus other sports as well.

It’s nice to have tradition, play in the playoffs and compete for Southland Conference titles, but there is more to strive for in McNeese’s future. 

And let’s be honest here, the future of the Southland Conference is, well, shaky at best. Depending on which rumor or website you believe, the league is on the verge of imploding. Most if not all of the Texas schools are looking to head out on the next stage, leaving the Cowboys behind to ride almost alone into the sunset. 

A Texas exodus would have major implications for McNeese from playoff chances to scheduling. And the Southland itself, that would be put on life support. Now others may come back looking for a safe place to land after their own bumpy ride through Division I (insert Louisiana-Monroe) but McNeese has been down that road before.

With places like ULL and Coastal Carolina giving the blueprint to success, and Monroe showing the way not to do it, now is the time to consider the move. With Heath Schroyer in charge of athletics, and Dr. Daryl Burckel leading the way for the university, right pieces might be in place.

Frank Wilson also has the feel of a football coach who loves competition and would welcome it. 

Yes, I know, timing could not be worse. School just trying to get back up and running and all the mess that needs to be cleaned up. I get that. 

But in all this mess there is hope, a brighter future and maybe the extra attention will be just what this community and school needs. 

Schroyer has said he believes McNeese will rebuild to be “bigger and stronger” than before. 

If that is the goal, then taking a good, long look at a move up might be the right thing for everybody involved. 

Maybe, when all the dust settles, all the debris is picked up and the blue tarps are off the roofs we will remember the year of 2020 not as the disaster it has been but the start of what is to come.

McNeese has a chance to lead that charge so one day it’s the Cowboys playing in a ranked game on national television and not some Johnny Come Lately program just 17 years old.

It’s all in how you look at things and dream.

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

Categories: McNeese State Sports, Sports