McNeese staying put
Area rebuild to benefit from decision
By Jim Gazzolo
Apparently, breaking up is hard to do.
Less than two weeks after receiving an invitation from the Western Athletic Conference, and flirting with Conference-USA, McNeese State is staying put.
In a stunning move, McNeese will stay in the Southland Conference after cutting a deal with league officials Tuesday.
McNeese, which was believed to be just hours from signing with the WAC on Monday, worked out an 11th-hour deal to stay in the Southland and become the de facto lead school in the league. This puts on hold talk of moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision level for right now.
McNeese is still hoping for a future move to college football’s elite division when the time is right.
“Our goal ultimately is still to find a pathway to the FBS,” said McNeese Athletic Director Heath Schroyer. “That hasn’t changed.”
What did change was the landscape over the last two weeks. The WAC, which is a dormant FBS league, lost two schools to Conference USA in Sam Houston State and New Mexico State that are football oriented. Both moved to C-USA taking with them the WAC’s current road to that level.
“When New Mexico State and Sam left the WAC the juice was not the same in the room,” said McNeese President Dr. Daryl Burckel. “The talk was about a much longer time frame in moving up and some of the push was gone.”
“We remain committed to finding a path to FBS Football. After evaluating several options, and a lengthy discussion with the newly invigorated Southland Conference leadership team, we are excited about the commitment the SLC has made to the SWLA Community. This agreement better positions us to pursue our goal of becoming an FBS football institution, while providing much needed economic stimulus for our community.”
The move likely saves the Southland Conference itself.
“We are absolutely thrilled to confirm the continuation of McNeese’s long-valued membership in the Southland Conference,” league Commissioner Tom Burnett said. “For a half century, Cowboy and Cowgirl athletics have experienced constant success in the Southland Conference, and we look forward to McNeese continuing to compete for league championships and national acclaim in the years to come.”
Schroyer cut a big deal for McNeese, the City of Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana in order to stay put. To remain in the SCL the conference will bring back to the City its annual Football Media Day for the next five years.
The event has been held in the past at the L’Auberge Casino Resort. The SLC moved it to Houston hoping for better media coverage but that hasn’t been the case. It will return to Lake Charles next summer. That, however, is just the start.
Also, McNeese will host both the men’s and women’s conference basketball tournaments, as well as those for baseball and softball, for the next four years starting in 2023. The school will also have the right of first refusal to continue hosting those events when that time expires.
“I think it is important for us to get these events and bring them to the City,” said Schroyer. “It will be a big boost to our economy and I hope will help in the recovery process of both the school and Southwest Louisiana.
“This was very important to us, not only for the money to the area but to showcase the improvements and changes that are going on with the recovery from the hurricanes.”
McNeese will also be given a position on the league’s board. Schroyer will serve as an advisor to the Commissioner and plans to recruit schools into a new-look, rebranded Southland. That could include those schools that have recently left. Even a new name for the league could be considered.
“I will be talking to anybody who is interested in us,” said Schroyer. “I will help in actively recruiting other schools into the league and do what I can to expand the conference.”
For the exit door to the captain’s chair all in one day, not bad for McNeese.
Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics and is the host of Poke Nation on CBS-Lake Charles.