Lamar leaves regional foe SFA and WAC year earlier than expected
NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - Stephen F. Austin will lose another rival due to conference realignment with Lamar University announcing they are heading back to the Southland Conference a year earlier than expected.
“We are very excited to take advantage of this opportunity to make the move to the Southland Conference for the 2022-23 season for all sports,” Athletics Director Jeff O’Malley said in a press release. “This is the best fit for the future of Lamar University Athletics, our fans and our student-athletes. I would like to thank Commissioner Grant and the leadership of the conference for working with us and providing a chance to join the league immediately.”
Lamar was one of four Southland Conference schools to leave the Southland Conference along with SFA, Sam Houston and Abilene Christian on July 1, 2021. Incarnate Word later would announce a move but a week before the the Cardinals were supposed to join they agreed to go back to Southland. Sam Houston and New Mexico State will be leaving the WAC next July to join Conference USA. UT-Arlington is joining the league in non-football sports.
“Shocked,” SFA director of Athletics Ryan Ivey said. “The same way with UIW. You have been in meetings with these individuals the past few months, having conversations with them to figure out how to move forward with the league with scheduling. They have been part of conversation the whole time. There was never any indication this was a possibility from their end or UIW. I get it. I understand it but at the end of the day it is disappointing. I think it is taking away from the student athlete experience from everyone. Ours and theirs included. I just think it is disappointing with the way it is shaking out but again I get it, I understand it and they made the decision for what is best for them.”
Lamar was set to go back to the Southland in 2023 but the announcement today means the WAC will now be down to five FCS football playoff eligible schools. This move will force the conference to rework football, soccer and volleyball schedules.
“Our membership is in a position of strength with a group of committed institutions who believe in our mission and philosophies moving forward with bold and creative initiatives,” said WAC Commissioner Brian Thornton. “We are always looking to put our institutions and its student-athletes in positions of success. While the timing of this decision is not ideal as we reformulate fall schedules, we are excited about the quality programs that remain. Our continuing institutions have shown a history and more importantly a desire to compete at a national level.”
SFA is considered the top team this upcoming season. They will have to win the WAC and finish at the top of the AQ7, a partnership between the WAC and ASun, if they want to get the automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.
“This is why it is important for us to continue that partnership,” Ivey said. “This is why we have continued to have conversations about expanding that partnership for years to come with opportunities for crossover games. I think you will see that. I think you put the five that is left and the five that they have, plus UT-Rio Grand Valley in 2025 which all signs still point to that, we will be the third highest ranked league in FCS. I think we are in a position of strength. I know it does not look like that or feel like that but I think it puts us in a position of strength moving forward.”
When it comes to spring sports, those schedules were not finalized but the plan will need to be adjusted. The WAC is set to debut a new formula this year with basketball that will not go off of conference record but a formula based on total strength of schedule through the KenPom rankings along with record.
“There is always a concern with postseason tournaments especially with the work of the transformation committee,” Ivey said. “I have been in some of those. The FCS schools and the triple-A schools, the non-football playing schools, represent two-thirds of our membership so there is value in us. I think the highest level understands that. I think it is trying to figure out where we fit. That is the biggest anxiety we face.”
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