In an era of considerable change in intercollegiate athletics, the Southland Conference continues to be a model of innovation, stability and consistent achievement as it celebrates a half century of academic and athletic accomplishments of its member institutions.
What began as a small gathering of college administrators 50 years ago, the Southland Conference has transformed itself into a dynamic and respected consortium of 10 member universities in four states. Beginning with a historic meeting of five institutions in Dallas on March 15, 1963, that included current member Lamar University (then Lamar State College of Technology), the Southland Conference set on an extraordinary course that has proven successful well into its five decades of existence.
The successful transformation continues, as the Southland Conference welcomes the addition of Oral Roberts University in 2012-13, marking the league’s first entry into the state of Oklahoma and the Tulsa metropolitan area. The Southland will soon welcome four additional members, including Houston Baptist University, the University of New Orleans, Abilene Christian University and the University of Incarnate Word for the 2013-14 academic year. This gives the league members in key population centers Houston, San Antonio and New Orleans, all home to significant student-recruitment and alumni bases. Further, original Southland member Abilene Christian, one of the most decorated athletic programs in the NCAA, will return to the league after a 40-year absence.
In addition to its newest and incoming members, the Southland Conference also consists of the University of Central Arkansas, Lamar University, McNeese State University, Nicholls State University, Northwestern State University, Sam Houston State University, Southeastern Louisiana University, Stephen F. Austin State University and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
All told, the membership of the Southland encompasses approximately 120,000 current students and an alumni base of nearly 700,000. Famous alums from current Southland Conference schools include former CBS news anchor Dan Rather (Sam Houston State), NBA executive Joe Dumars (McNeese State), ABC news anchor Robin Roberts (Southeastern Louisiana), major League Baseball stars Kevin Millar (Lamar) and Wade Miley (Southeastern Louisiana), NBA legend Scottie Pippen (Central Arkansas), Grammy Award-winning musicians Don Henley and Rodney Crowell (both Stephen F. Austin), NFL standout Lardarius Webb (Nicholls State), PGA Tour golfer Chris Stroud (Lamar), award-winning filmmaker Richard Linklater (Sam Houston State), American Idol winner Kris Allen (Central Arkansas), NCAA football coach Charlie Strong (Central Arkansas), TV personality Kathie Lee Gifford (Oral Roberts), and NFL coaching legend O.A. “Bum” Phillips (Lamar, Stephen F. Austin),
The cities of the Southland are diverse and progressive, ranging from international business and cultural centers such as Houston, New Orleans, Tulsa and Little Rock, to the historical cities of Nacogdoches, Texas, and Natchitoches, La., to the home of the modern oil boom, Beaumont, Texas, to the unique Cajun French cultures found in the Louisiana cities of Thibodaux and Lake Charles. Southland Conference institutions also draw large numbers of students from the metropolitan areas of Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, Austin, and Shreveport.
The Southland sponsors 17 championship sports, all at the NCAA Division I level. The eight men’s sports include baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, tennis, and indoor and outdoor track and field. The women compete for nine championships in basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, tennis, indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball. The conference earns automatic qualification to NCAA championships in baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, football, men’s and women’s golf, women’s soccer, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, and volleyball.
Continuing its tradition of innovation, the league launched the Southland Conference Television Network in the fall of 2008 and has already broadcast more than 130 events. The network is expanding its reach to roughly 11 million households throughout Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma in 2012-13. In its first four years, the regional network has received recognition for its work, earning College Sports Media and Telly Awards on a regular basis.
The Southland Conference, in conjunction with the city of Frisco, Texas and Hunt Sports Group, also serves as the host to the NCAA Division I Football Championship Game in Frisco, which has been home to the conference headquarters since 2006. The game is played at Frisco’s FC Dallas Stadium.
Southland Conference football ranks among the best Football Championship Subdivision leagues in the nation, and enjoys an annual expectation of competing for the national championship with multiple teams advancing to the NCAA playoffs each year. In 2011, Sam Houston State finished the regular season undefeated and ranked No. 1 nationally, and advanced to the NCAA national championship game. Also, in 2002 and 2003, McNeese State finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the nation, and advanced to the 2002 national championship contest. The conference has been represented in seven national championship games since the league joined the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) in 1982. All told, Southland teams have played in 99 Division I playoff games in 30 years, winning 48 of the contests.
Historically, the Southland’s successful football heritage has sustained itself through numerous membership and classification changes. Originally an NAIA conference, the Southland joined the NCAA College Division in 1968. The College Division was re-named NCAA Division II in 1973, and the league played two seasons in that class, before joining Division I in 1975. The Southland was an NCAA Division I-A league from 1978-81, before joining the ranks of FCS in 1982, its home ever since.
During its tenure as a Division I-A conference, the Southland Conference was instrumental in the startup of the Independence Bowl in 1976. The Southland representative served as the host team of the bowl until 1980, compiling a 2-3 record in those contests.
The conference can lay claim to five national championships, including College Division championships through former members Arkansas State (1970, UPI) and Louisiana Tech (1972, National Football Foundation). Louisiana Tech also won the first NCAA-sanctioned national title, winning the Division II playoffs in 1973. Tech followed that with the UPI’s Division II national championship in 1974. Louisiana-Monroe won the 1987 national championship.
McNeese State, which has made 14 appearances in the national playoffs, also played in the 1997 NCAA Division I Championship game, while Stephen F. Austin played in the 1989 title contest and has six playoff appearances, including 2009 and 2010. Northwestern State has played in the playoffs six times, and advanced to the semifinals in 1998, while Sam Houston State has earned five trips to the postseason, including the semifinals in 2004. Nicholls State has participated three times in the playoffs, and Central Arkansas made its playoff debut in 2011. On four occasions, the Southland has placed three teams in the NCAA playoffs.
The Southland has produced 163 first-team football All-Americans during its history and in 2010, Stephen F. Austin quarterback Jeremy Moses became the first player in Southland history to receive the Walter Payton Award, which is presented annually to the most outstanding football player at the FCS level.
The Southland is one of five FCS conferences with at least 200 selections (205) in the National Football League draft. The league also ranks third in the FCS with 25 players taken in the draft since 2000 and has 13 former players on NFL rosters heading into the 2012 season.
The Southland Conference has also sent such talent to the professional ranks as Buffalo’s Terrence McGee (Northwestern State) and Felton Huggins (Southeastern Louisiana), Minnesota’s Rhett Bomar (Sam Houston State), Jacksonville’s Bryan Smith (McNeese State) and Larry Hart (Central Arkansas), Tennessee’s Jacob Ford (Central Arkansas), Baltimore’s Lardarius Webb (Nicholls State), Seattle’s Dominique Edison (Stephen F. Austin) and Green Bay’s Antonio Robinson (Nicholls State), who became the Southland’s 24th player to win a Super Bowl when the Packers beat Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV in Arlington in 2011.
Among the former NFL stars from the Southland include Fred Dean, who was inducted to the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 2008 to become the first former Southland Conference player to earn induction in Canton. Other great NFL players from the Southland include Super Bowl XXIX quarterback Stan Humphries, Bill Bergey, Mike Barber, Fred Barnett, Bubby Brister, Ray Brown, Roger Carr, Larry Centers, Bruce Collie, Jackie Harris, Buford Jordan, Tim McKyer, Kavika Pittman, Billy Ryckman, Rickey Sanders, Eugene Seale, Rafael Septien, Terrance Shaw, Marcus Spears, Pat Tilley and Marvin Upshaw.
The Southland Conference has also seen its share of great coaches during its history in Maxie Lambright, Ernie Duplechin, Sam Goodwin, Jack Doland, Bennie Ellender, Bobby Keasler, Larry Lacewell, Bill Davidson, Dennis Franchione, Pat Collins, and Ron Randleman.
In addition to football, the Southland Conference can point to a number of accomplishments in all sports.
Men’s basketball has experienced a tremendous amount of success during the Southland’s 45-plus years. The league has sent two teams to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen, as well as a squad to the NIT Final Four. Basketball stars Karl Malone, Joe Dumars, Jeff Foster, Dwight “Bo” Lamar, Andrew Toney and Mike Oliver played in the Southland Conference. In 2006, Northwestern State, playing as the No. 14 seed in the NCAA tournament, defeated No. 3 seed Iowa, 64-63, in first-round action. The league also saw three of its current teams, including newcomer Oral Roberts, reach the postseason in 2011.
Coaches such as Billy Tubbs, Mike Vining, Scotty Robertson, Jack Martin, Andy Russo, Bobby Paschal and Pat Foster have led teams in the Southland.
In women’s basketball, the Southland also has its share of tradition with former member Louisiana-Monroe advancing to the 1985 NCAA Women’s Final Four, and Stephen F. Austin sustaining itself as one of the most successful programs in the history of the sport. In 2008, the Ladyjacks became the eighth program in NCAA Division I history to record more than 800 wins.
In each of the last three seasons, at least three Southland teams reached the postseason, and in 2011, half of the current members, five (including newcomer Oral Roberts), earned postseason berths. A Southland team has played in the WNIT 12 times, including each of the last six years. Women’s basketball all-stars have included Eun Jung Lee, Lisa Ingram, Portia Hill, Deneen Parker, Katrina Price, and Joskeen Garner, and coaches such as Gary Blair, Linda Sharp, James Smith and Linda Harper.
Baseball has emerged as a constant Southland Conference strength with the league earning numerous national rankings and NCAA tournament berths. The Southland consistently ranks among the top-10 conferences in the country. In 2011, 50 of the league’s 150 non-conference victories came against the Big 12, Conference USA, Sun Belt and SEC. Major leaguers such as Ben Sheets, Micah Hoffpauir, Hunter Pence, David Segui, Brian Lawrence, Ben Broussard, Chuck Finley, Jerald Clark, and Terry Matthews once played in the Southland.
In 2012, Southeastern Louisiana’s Stefan Lopez became the league’s second winner of the national Stopper of the Year Award, which is selected by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers. Sam Houston State’s Luke Prihoda won the award in 2007. Only the Big 12 Conference has had more players win that award.
The Southland also fares well each year in the Major League Draft. Seventeen players were selected in 2012, a year after the league saw 25 players taken in 2011, which matched 1995 for the most in its history. The league, which has had 456 draft picks all time, has had two players, Ben Sheets (Louisiana-Monroe) and Michael Choice (UT Arlington) taken seventh in the draft, marking the league’s highest-ever draft picks.
In 2011, Lamar mentor Jim Gilligan became the first Southland coach to reach 1,200 career victories, ranking him sixth-best in the NCAA among active Division I coaches and 24th all-time. After 26 years as a college head coach, including his last five years at Sam Houston State, Mark Johnson retired following the 2011 season with 1,043 career wins. He is among an impressive list of coaches who have patrolled Southland Conference dugouts, including Mike Bianco, John Cohen, Mitch Gaspard, Smoke Laval, Butch McBroom, Pat Patterson, Tony Robichaux, Dave Van Horn and Jim Wells.
Softball continues to enjoy success on a national level, beating nationally-ranked opponents every year since 1995, including McNeese State’s win at No. 1 Arizona State early in the 2012 season. In 2011, the league had four wins against ranked opponents, including a win by Stephen F. Austin at No. 3 Texas. In 20 years of NCAA tournament competition the Southland has racked up 15 wins.
The Southland also has a proud history in volleyball with former member UT Arlington representing the conference numerous times in the NCAA tournament, including a run to the NCAA Volleyball Final Four in 1989.
Track and field has also served as a proud asset for the Southland Conference as the league has produced numerous national champions and Olympic medalists. The Southland boasts 28 men and three women student-athletes who have won NCAA track and field national championships, including Northwestern State’s Trecey Rew, who won the women’s discus in 2011, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s Shadrack Songok (10,000-meter run) in 2007 and 2008 and McNeese State’s Brad Gebauer (pole vault) in 2007. The league has also produced U.S. Olympic track and field medalists Earl Bell, Thomas Hill, Al Joyner and Charles Austin, Liudmila Litvinova, along with other Olympians. With the addition of 10 more All-Americans in 2012, the league continues to find national success in both indoor and outdoor track and field. In the indoor circuit, the Southland boasts 66 unique all-time All-Americans that have won a combined 11 national championships. Likewise, in the outdoor season, the league has seen 158 different All-Americans, including 128 men and 30 women, who have combined to win 21 national championships.
Golf has traditionally been a strong Southland sport as exemplified by Lamar men’s golfer Chris Stroud, who finished third individually at the 2003 NCAA National Championship and is a member of the PGA Tour. Both Stroud and former Southeastern Louisiana golfer Hugo Leon competed in the 2010 U.S. Open. The league has sent multiple teams into postseason play on numerous occasions, including in 2012 when three Southland teams – Lamar, Southeastern Louisiana and UT Arlington – competed in the NCAA tournament. Additionally, during the past four seasons the Southland has sent 10 golfers to compete as individuals in regional play with five in 2009, three more in 2010 and one each in 2011 and 2012. Lamar won a pair of NCAA Division II national championships in 1967 and 1968, and also produced PGA player Ronnie Black.
In 2005, Lamar’s Dawie Van Der Walt finished fourth individually and Lamar tied for 12th place at the NCAA Men’s Golf Championship, before the Cardinals tied for ninth in 2006 and tied for third in 2007. Former Lamar golfer Casey Clendenon advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur in 2007.
In women’s tennis, Southeastern Louisiana won 46 consecutive conference matches during a four-year period that began in 2005, while in men’s tennis Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has played in the NCAA tournament four times in the last six years.
The conference has increased sponsorship and championship opportunities for female student-athletes in recent years, adding women’s golf and soccer as league sports.
The Southland Conference has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to the academic and athletic success of its student-athletes. With the F.L. McDonald Postgraduate Scholarship Award, the league annually honors one male and one female scholar-athlete with a stipend for postgraduate study. The Scholar-Athlete Award is given to each institution’s male and female student-athlete with the highest grade-point average. The Steve McCarty Citizenship Award, initiated in 2005-06 and named after the former Stephen F. Austin athletic director, properly recognizes accomplishments off the court for a male and female student-athlete. Also, student-athletes with grade-point averages above 3.0 are honored on the Southland’s annual All-Academic teams and Commissioner’s Honor Roll. A record 979 student-athletes appeared on the honor roll following the 2012 spring semester.
While successful on the fields and courts, the Southland Conference has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to the academic and athletic success of its student-athletes.
The conference continues to make great strides in the classroom. During the last six years, no other Division I conference has improved its Academic Progress Rate as well as the Southland Conference has. In fact, in 2009-10, the Southland ranked 10th among the 31 Division I leagues in men’s basketball APR. The academic progress the league has shown ultimately leads to higher graduation rates for our student-athletes.
In addition to providing expanding opportunities for student-athletes, the Southland Conference and its member institutions are very involved in various community outreach programs. Many of these programs provide positive life skills training such as academics, citizenship and leadership to school-aged students in Southland communities.