NACOGDOCHES, Texas — One Southland Conference school said to be leaving the league has taken its first formal step toward doing that.
Stephen F. Austin University's Board of Regents gave the go-ahead for the school to begin negotiating with the Western Athletic Conference to secure an invitation, according to KTRE-TV in Texas. The invite from the WAC would be official starting July 1, 2022., the station reported.
I confirmed last week the reporting of several other outlets that four Southland schools are seeking to join the WAC. Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State, Lamar and Abilene Christian are unhappy with other Southland schools, which they say aren't funding their athletic departments to the proper levels. In addition, Southern Utah of the Big Sky Conference is also expected to join the WAC.
There is also discontent over revenue opportunities, including revenue (and exposure) from television, according to a source.
A spokesman for the WAC, Chris Thompson, told me "there are no announcements imminent" concerning changes in membership.
KTRE reported SFA's regents met in a two-hour executive session Wednesday, Dec. 16. University president Scott Gordon will negotiate the terms of SFA joining the WAC.
The station reported SFA has received an invitation from the WAC but it will not be accepted unless the two sides can agree on the terms.
The move would shake up the Football Championship Subdivision.
The Southland regularly puts three teams in the FCS playoffs and until a drop-off the last couple of years Sam Houston State was considered one of the top five programs in the country. The Bearkats qualified for the FCS national title game in 2011 and 2012 (losing to North Dakota State both times) and made deep postseason runs in subsequent years.
In addition to the four schools leaving the Southland, Central Arkansas is reportedly looking at exiting the league in favor the Atlantic Sun for most sports and the Big South for football. The Bears have been a top Southland football program the last few years.
The addition of Sam Houston State, Lamar, Abilene Christian, Stephen F. Austin and Southern Utah would give the WAC 14 members, with seven that play football. The conference hasn't sponsored football since 2012, but multiple outlets say it's no secret the league hoped to add it again.
The WAC's football members would be an eclectic mix, including two schools — Dixie State of Utah and Tarleton State of Texas — that are still going through the Division I reclassification process. Those schools won't be eligible for postseason play until 2024, meaning the league wouldn't be eligible for an auto-bid because it would only have five postseason eligible members. It's expected the league would seek an NCAA waiver for an auto-bid.