"The Southland Conference athletic directors have spent the past six months determining the competitive future of the league based on the membership additions approved by the Board of Directors," Southland commissioner Tom Burnett said. "There were a number of challenges in working through the possible scheduling formats and championship qualification when as many as 14 teams compete in some sports, and there remains more work ahead in this process."
Abilene Christian University, Houston Baptist University, the University of the Incarnate Word and the University of New Orleans will join the Southland Conference on July 1, 2013, giving the league the largest membership in its 50-year history. Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word are currently NCAA Division II institutions that will begin a four-year transition into Division I in the 2013-14 academic year with assistance from the Southland. HBU and UNO are already classified Division I as they join fully later this year.
Other member institutions of the Southland Conference include the University of Central Arkansas, Lamar University, McNeese State University, Nicholls State University, Northwestern State University, Oral Roberts University, Sam Houston State University, Southeastern Louisiana University, Stephen F. Austin State University, and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
The Southland sponsors 17 sports at the Division I level, including men's programs football, basketball, baseball, cross country, golf, tennis, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field. Women's programs participate league-wide in volleyball, basketball, cross country, soccer, softball, golf, tennis, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field.
"Addressing the numerous sports scheduling issues was a significant task for the athletic directors and the other administrative groups that approved their work, such as the Advisory Council and Board of Directors," Burnett said. "We had a very active series of meetings where considerations were given to every known format and alignment possible. While there were varied thoughts, opinions, and some understandable disagreements at times, the athletic directors found consensus in the end for the short- and long-term well-being of all concerned."
In football, the 2013 schedule does not include any additions, as the athletic directors approved that slate in April 2011. Abilene Christian, Houston Baptist and Incarnate Word will make their Southland football debuts in the 2014 football season. That's when the 11 sponsoring teams will begin playing eight conference games, randomly missing two league opponents in the regular season. Then, in 2015, 10 of the 11 teams will play a ninth league contest, missing a single opponent. Houston Baptist, which is just beginning a Division I football program, will continue to play eight conference games and miss two opponents, at least through the 2016 season.
"The athletic directors were very clear about the desire to play more conference football games," Burnett said. "Specifically, there was interest in nine games, but non-conference schedule commitments made that next to impossible in 2014. In 2015 and 2016, however, the math in the scheduling matrix allows nine conference games for all teams except one, in this case HBU."
The Southland athletic directors will revisit future football schedules and formats at a later date.
In other sports, Southland administrators approved "bridge" schedules for 2013-14 only, but will revisit most slates in the coming weeks and months for 2014-15 and beyond. This is due mainly to the NCAA Division I transitional requirements that require the Southland's Division I members to count competition against Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word as non-Division I opposition in 2013-14. Thus, in some cases, a reduced number of games and matches will be played against ACU and UIW by the Division I members in the coming academic year.
"As ACU and UIW begin the transition into Division I, the Conference has to make some accommodations to bring them in and give them schedules, but must also protect its other members against too many non-Division I competitions," Burnett said. "This is somewhat similar to the process followed during the first year of Central Arkansas' Division I-to-Division II transition in 2006-07."
Throughout Abilene Christian's and Incarnate Word's transition into Division I, scheduled to end at the conclusion of the 2016-17 academic year, the athletic programs are ineligible for NCAA postseason competition. Thus, they are also unable to participate in Southland postseason events where the automatic qualifier into NCAA Division I Championships is presented to the winner.
Further, ACU and UIW will be ineligible for football championships during this time, and cannot win any regular-season championships in 2013-14, or in subsequent years in some sports where regular-season finish may impact postseason opportunities. This would include men's basketball, where a regular-season champion that does not win the conference tournament, could be eligible automatically for an NIT berth.
As it relates directly to future schedules, the Southland will not conduct competition in set geographic divisions in any sports at this time. This differs from when the league played some sports in East-West divisions as a 12-member organization from 2006-2012. Instead, administrators preferred travel-swing formats in the round-robin sports where applicable, playing multiple teams when traveling without strict geographic parameters.
In men's and women's basketball, where the full membership competes, the Division I teams will play 18 conference games in 2013-14: two games home-and-away against five Division I members, single games home-or-away against the other six Division teams, and single games home-or-away against Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word. ACU and UIW, in addition to playing each Division I member once, will play each other twice for a 14-game slate in 2013-14.
In all applicable sports, once the two transitioning members begin to fully qualify as Division I scheduling opponents in 2014-15, they will be fully integrated into league schedules.
In baseball, the 12 Division I members will play 30 total conference games in 2014, including nine three-game series against other Division I programs, and a single three-games series against ACU or UIW, but not both. The Division I members will randomly miss two other Division I league opponents during the regular season. ACU and UIW will play six three-game series against Division I members, and will play home-and-away series versus one another for a 24-game league schedule in 2014.
In softball, the 10 Division I members that sponsor the sport will play 27 conference games, including eight three-game series against Division I opposition, and a single series against ACU or UIW, but not both. The Division I members randomly miss one regular season series against a fellow Division I team. ACU and UIW will play five three-game series against Division I members, and two home-and-away series against each other for a 21-game conference schedule.
Like basketball in 2013-14, the 12 Division I volleyball teams will play 18 league matches in the upcoming season, also playing five Division I opponents twice home-and-away, the other six Division I teams once home-or-away, and play transitioning Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word in single matches. ACU and UIW will play the 12 Division I members in single matches, and play each other twice for 14 total matches.
All 13 women's soccer teams, including ACU and UIW, will play a single round-robin of 12 Southland matches in 2013, and this format is expected to continue in future years. Likewise, the 13 women's tennis programs will also play a 12-match single round-robin format that should also roll into subsequent years. The seven men's tennis teams will also play single round-robin matches in the regular season.
Exact playing schedules will be released by the member institutions when non-conference games and matches are finalized.
In cross country, as well as indoor and outdoor track and field, all teams will compete fully in the end-of-season championship events, including Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word. In golf, where only a season-ending tournament is held, all participating teams will compete, although ACU and UIW will participate as "unattached" teams, ineligible for the championships.
Regarding postseason championships qualification, the following was approved by the athletic directors for the 2013-14 academic year:
Cross Country: All 14 men's & women's programs (including DI transitional programs)
Women's Soccer: Top 6 of the 11 eligible programs (not including transitional programs)
Volleyball: Top 8 of the 12 eligible programs (not including transitional programs)
Indoor Track: All 13 men's/14 women's members (including transitional programs)
Basketball: Top 8 of 12 eligible programs (not including transitional programs)
Men's Golf: All 10 programs (transitional programs compete as "unattached"/ineligible)
Women's Golf: All nine programs (transitional program competes as "unattached"/ineligible)
Women's Tennis: Top 8 of 11 eligible programs (not including transitional programs)
Men's Tennis: Top 4 of 5 eligible programs (not including transitional programs)
Softball: 6 of 10 eligible programs (not including transitional programs)
Outdoor Track: All 13 men's/14 women's members (including transitional programs)
Baseball: 8 of 12 eligible programs (not including transitional programs)