By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
To win the Southland Conference championship, the Texas State football team needs to win its last two games and receive help from the outside. Much of that help arrived Tuesday from the league office.
The Southland Conference (SLC) announced that it will not award its football championship this year to Central Arkansas (UCA), which holds first place with a 4-1 conference record. The league made its decision after being informed by the NCAA that it would lose its automatic bid to the NCAA football tournament for awarding the title to Central Arkansas.
Central Arkansas is in the second year of its four-year transitional period from Division II to Division I. During that transition, Central Arkansas is ineligible for NCAA championships. However, the league believed it could still award its championship to Central Arkansas without jeopardizing its automatic berth, until hearing otherwise from the NCAA.
“For us, it’s big,” Texas State wide receiver Cameron Luke said. “For (UCA), it’s not good.”
The league’s decision is significant at Texas State for at least two reasons.
First, the university is in the midst of a drive to move into bowl-level football (Football Bowl Subdivision) in 2012. Towards making a case for the move up with the NCAA, the university’s drive involves facilities upgrades across the athletic department, attendance benchmarks and league championships, particularly in football. If the Bobcats should win the SLC, it would help the university make its case for promotion.
Second, the SLC’s decision illustrates what Texas State can expect for the first few years if it succeeds in moving up to FBS. Should the Bobcats be approved for promotion and move into an FBS conference, it’s likely they would be ineligible for a league championship and bowl participation for years.
It is unknown, however, what the exact conditions of Texas State’s promotion would be. The NCAA has placed a moratorium on athletic programs changing divisions or levels within divisions until 2011. During the moratorium, the NCAA is working out the details of its classification system, including the criteria for changing divisions or levels.
Texas State already is in Division I for every sport. Football is the only sport that has two levels within Division I – the FBS level to which Texas State aspires, and the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) to which the university now belongs.
The SLC informed the NCAA in August that it intended to award its football title to Central Arkansas this year if it finishes in first place, then give the automatic bid to the next highest qualifier. In response, the NCAA ruled last week, per NCAA Division I Bylaw 126.96.36.199(f), that if the league went through with the plan, it would have to relinquish its NCAA automatic bid and rely on having a team or teams chosen at-large.
“We are very disappointed to learn our competitive plans will not be accepted by the NCAA,” Southland commissioner Tom Burnett said. “Despite our efforts to provide the UCA football program, its student-athletes and university community with the best competitive experience possible during the reclassification period, this restriction limits our intentions. However, under no circumstance can we forfeit our automatic qualification that we’ve had since 1982.”
The league’s decision raises the stakes for the Texas State football team, which is 6-4 overall and 3-2 in the SLC. With Central Arkansas now out of the running for the league championship, Texas State, in effect, moves into a first-place tie with McNeese State and Northwestern State, which both are also 3-2 in the league.
The Bobcats already would have won the NCAA tournament bid with two more wins and one Northwestern State loss. Now, the league championship would come with it.
“It doesn’t make any difference,” Texas State football coach Brad Wright said about the SLC’s ruling. “It doesn’t change what we need to do for Nicholls State.”
Texas State has defeated McNeese State and lost to Northwestern State. The Bobcats play at home Saturday (3 p.m.) against Nicholls State. Northwestern State plays at McNeese State.
If the Bobcats finish in a first-place tie with McNeese State, they would win the title for the head-to-head victory. For the same reason, Northwestern State would win the title in a tie at the top with Texas State.
A three-way tie at the top between Texas State, McNeese State and Northwestern State remains possible. If McNeese beats Northwestern Saturday and the three-way tie obtains, then all three teams would be 1-1 in the head-to-head.
The next tiebreaker, said Texas State Sports Information Director Rick Poulter, is how the teams fared against the highest team not in the tie. That team is likely to be Central Arkansas. Texas State and Northwestern State both have lost to Central Arkansas. McNeese State plays at Central Arkansas on Nov. 22 to end the season.
“We are very disappointed to learn that we are not eligible for an official conference championship,” UCA Athletic Director Brad Teague said. “I feel for our coaches and student-athletes who have worked extremely hard and have already had a tremendous year. But this enforcement of the rules by the NCAA will not dampen our spirits or motivation as we continue to strive toward excellence and the best record in the league.”Email | Print