Southland ‘exhausted every effort’ before postponing fall sports

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Tom Burnett

Southland Conference commissioner Tom Burnett said Thursday his office and members “exhaust(ed) every single effort we could to play in the fall” before announcing its decision to postpone all conference play in fall sports until the spring as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Just three weeks ago, we … held the first Division I (football) media day event of the summer with every intent of playing,” Burnett said in a news conference held 30 minutes after the league announcement. “We were excited to preview what would have been the 57th season of Southland Conference football. We had every intention of working our way toward championship competition.”

The Southland held out as one of the final three conferences in the Football Championship Subdivision to postpone football and other fall sports. In addition to medical guidance, another factor was an NCAA ruling that when more than 50 percent of schools in a classification opt out of a season, the championship is postponed.

“We got to a point where we had to give up on the fall,” Burnett said. “Like some peer conferences, the spring seemed to be that opportunity.

“We regret this outcome we’re announcing today. Our athletic directors and presidents have worked diligently to find that pathway. With a tremendous amount of disappointment, we’re not able to do that.”

While conference play and championships will not be conducted in the fall, member institutions can choose to play non-conference game. Burnett and his staff are working under the expectation that total fall and spring football games may not exceed the FCS’ 11-game limit for 2020-21.

All of the league’s five Louisiana members – the University of New Orleans, Nicholls State University, Southeastern Louisiana University, McNeese State University and Northwestern State University – also announced it will not play non-conference competitions in the fall. Most notable of the affected cancellations are Southeastern’s football game against Tulane at Yulman Stadium and McNeese’s game at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette on the opening weekend of the season.

“Those that have fall games remaining on their schedules, I think what they will tell you is they are choosing to follow the NCAA medical guidance and testing protocol to perhaps play non-conference games,” Burnett said. “While there was some uniformity in the decision that was made, there were a variety of opinions. The decision for ‘why’ could be a little bit different on each of our campuses.”

The Southland has served as host of the Division I football championship game for the last decade in Frisco, Texas, and just signed another five-year agreement. What that championship looks like in the spring, or other NCAA championships for that matter, remains to be seen.

But Burnett, who is one of 10 members of the NCAA’s prestigious men’s basketball committee, has some ideas. “Don’t expect the 24-team (FCS) bracket,” he said. “I think you’re going to see brackets reduced in size and NCAA championships played at fewer sites (to accommodate COVID-19 testing). There’s a lot of complications to work through.”

Moving fall competitions to spring will certainly put a stress on athletic staffs at Southland programs, which are smaller than those at their FBS counterparts.

“A spring that may now includes these fall sports … creates logistical challenges for our institutions,” Burnett said. “We may have championship events overlapping.”

Burnett suggested “thinking out of the box” to “creatively schedule events,” specifically suggesting football games on Friday nights, where in the spring there may not be a traditional overlap with high school football.

“Some of our campuses have baseball, softball, track meet, tennis (on a spring weekend),” Burnett said. “To add a big football game on a Saturday, we may have to think differently to better accommodate and take care of our staffs. When our ADs start to talk about this, maybe we need to re-think how we schedule.”

While fans feel the impact of Thursday’s news, Burnett also spoke directly to those most impacted by the decisions.

“For everyone in our university communities, we are here to provide you all with the best collegiate experience we can,” he said. “These are unprecedented times. However, just like in everyday life, college sports has stories of adversity, even tragedy.

“We all want to play. Every president. Every athletic director. Every coach. Every student-athlete. There’s nothing joyous about not playing in the fall. This is another moment of adversity, admittedly an extended moment, but one we will overcome.”

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Lenny Vangilder

Lenny Vangilder

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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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