The latest on FCS realignment, including the WAC, Southland, MEAC and more:
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Okay! Let's get to the realignment updates.
Could another WAC school join Lamar in returning to the Southland?
Last month, Lamar made the somewhat surprising decision to return to the Southland Conference, after just one season in the WAC.
Recently, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi athletic director Jon Palumbo, in an interview with Caller.com, said:
"I do see more growth in the Southland," Palumbo said. "I think you will see more dominoes fall. Lamar was a huge first step for us for some other schools to consider the Southland. Give us some Texas balance. I think hopefully there is more to come and I could certainly see a few more schools coming our way in the next few years."
I've asked around, and ADs and other industry insiders who follow the WAC closely do not believe that a full Texas Exodus (Texodus?) back to the Southland conference is likely, as several Texas-based WAC schools have communicated to their peers that they intend to remain in the conference.
The one possible exception? The most recent addition to the WAC... Incarnate Word.
Industry sources tell Extra Points that WAC officials were on campus last week, trying to better understand UIWs thinking and to try to keep them in the conference, a sign that UIW is legitimately considering staying in the Southland. Officials familiar with the Southland's thinking tell me that the Southland would love to keep UIW in the league.
The Southland would certainly offer UIW decreased travel compared to the WAC, but I'm told that isn't the only factor under consideration. Industry sources also told me that UIW would be expected to spend more on operational budget to keep up with their WAC peers (the school has planned facility improvements that are scheduled to happen no matter what conference they affiliate with, I'm told). Some of the 'Texas 4" declined to invite UIW to join the WAC in the first place, after all, over budget-related issues.
UIW's membership in the Southland Conference is currently scheduled to end, I believe, on July 1, and some sort of resolution is expected before then.
Any additional defections would put the WAC in a tricky position, football-wise, and they're not the only league facing a potential number crunch. And that's lead to some interesting, out-of-the-box conversations
Should IWU decide to remain in the Southland (as of this writing, that is an open question), the WAC would have just five football playing-members: Dixie State, Southern Utah, Abilene Christian, SFA and Tarleton State. A sixth school, UTRGV, is planning on starting an FCS football program, but won't be ready until 2025.
One potential option, I'm told, is to renew the league's previous agreement to combine with the ASUN. The ASUN's current FCS members for 2022 include Austin Peay, Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, Kennesaw State and North Alabama. At least three of those programs are considered by industry analysts as potential FBS candidates in the near future.
Officials at WAC, Southland and ASUN institutions, as well as conference offices, confirmed to me that low-level conversations have been had about additional ways the three leagues can work together. One idea that had been discussed would be to find ways to facilitate allowing any of their interested members to pursue FBS membership immediately, while maintaining membership in their current conferences for the rest of their sports. Those institutions would then enter into a scheduling agreement, seek to secure bowl invites, etc.
Think of it as not-quite-but-almost a new conference. Sort of.
There are several logistical and administrative challenges to this proposal. Could those independents potentially secure revenue from the next College Football Playoff plan? Would bylaws permit this move? If those bylaws are being rewritten, do the current bylaws even matter?
The auto-bid math is a major challenge for several FCS leagues. The OVC and Big South solved their problem, at least in the short term, by combining leagues. Over the last several months, I'm told officials at the Southland and ASUN had similar conversations with each other, as well as the Big South and OVC.
Finding a way to simply say, let EKU, Central Arkansas, Tarleton State and Kennesaw jump to FCS now, ask for forgiveness instead of permission, and figure out the rest of the bylaw stuff later, could end up being a potential option down the line.
Speaking of leagues facing an auto-bid numbers crunch, here's what I'm hearing about the MEAC
Currently, the MEAC has just six FCS football playing members: South Carolina State, NC Central, Delaware State, Norfolk State, Howard, and Morgan State. The league has reached out to several D-II schools over the past year to try and grow membership, but has not yet been successful.
But two weeks ago, our friends at HBCU Gameday reported that Howard is "prepared to move to the CAA." I've been told that officials at the CAA also expect this to eventually happen, although an official announcement may be weeks away. Should Howard leave the conference, it would not be until 2023.
Should Howard leave, the MEAC would be down to just five football-playing schools, and only seven-full members. Without a waiver, under current NCAA bylaws, the MEAC would not be able to maintain their automatic postseason bids, although I am told that athletic officials at MEAC schools are confident they would be able to secure a short-term waiver, especially given the uncertainty around current NCAA conference bylaws anyway. The MEAC does not participate in the FCS playoffs.
One potential MEAC expansion candidate is Chicago State. I can confirm that officials at Chicago State and at the MEAC have had several conversations, and that Chicago State is interested in joining the conference.
I saw this messaging floating around social media this week, and from a few college basketball coaches...but it isn't actually true
Chicago State has received enough votes to be admitted to the MEAC. Now we see if it actually goes through. With Howard on the way out, it is hard to see anything stopping this.
— Major Madness (@low_madness)
Apr 20, 2022
Sources familiar with the decision-making have told me that the ADs in the MEAC have voted to take Chicago State, but that the presidents have not...and that they are learning towards not doing so. Concerns over Chicago State's inability to guarantee they will add an FCS football program, their geography, and money, have still not been completely resolved. To make matters more complicated, Chicago State's AD resigned, effective yesterday.
I've believed that the MEAC was the most likely conference destination for Chicago State, if any existed, for the last few months. The school has talked with the Southland and OVC, although those conversations have since ended. If MEAC leadership ultimately decided not to add Chicago State, the Cougars will enter the summer as a D-I independent, a daunting task under normal circumstances, but an especially challenging one now, given that fall schedules are mostly finalized across much of the country.
Outside any decision on Chicago State (which would almost certainly need to happen in May), I am not expecting dramatic moves out of the MEAC in the short term. I'm told that many MEAC schools would attract interest from other conferences should they decide to depart (the NEC, in particular, I'm told, would love to add a MEAC defector instead of another D-II call-up school), the realities of the calendar are expected to slow down some of the talks. It's probably too late in the year for any other school to change leagues for the 2022 season, and there's still time to iron out details, and see what else happens with NCAA reform, ahead of any 2023 deadlines.
My advice for any fan waiting for other mid and low-major realignment news? Be patient
Things can always change quickly, but remember, conference changes are decisions made by presidents and regents, not exclusively the domain of athletic directors. As we head into May, those senior leaders will also have to spend time on other major events in the academic calendar, and other major networking events are spaced out a little more in the summer.
While there are other leagues that are actively looking for membership balance, particularly the America East and NEC, don't be shocked if the next press conference (outside the MAAC announcing Mount Saint Mary's), isn't for several weeks, if not longer. With so much uncertainty about bylaws, funding, and the very base rules of college athletics, there may be wisdom in waiting a few more months to see if anything sorts itself out...just in case.
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