By John L. Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal
The day after the University of North Alabama announced plans for a possible move to Division I last week, reporters were blowing up Jeremy McClain’s phone, looking for his reaction.
The Delta State athletic director, a former standout athlete at Houlka and DSU, wasn’t surprised.
“Folks had the TV cameras in my office the next day,” McClain said Thursday. “My reponse was the same as it has always been. We can’t have a knee-jerk reaction to what other schools are doing. We’ll keep doing the same thing we have always done.”
And for now, that means standing with the Division II Gulf South Conference, which Delta State joined as a charter member in 1970 – the one year it was known as the Mid-South Conference.
It’s been a tumultous year for the Gulf South, which will see its six Arkansas members leave for the new Great American Conference this fall. That leaves eight schools in the GSC – but only six football schools, including North Alabama.
If North Alabama, a D-II football powerhouse, indeed leaves for Division I, that would leave the GSC with five football teams – and some severe scheduling headaches.
“Can a five-team football league survive long-term? Probably not,” McClain said. “But we have some plans in place, such as scheduling agreements with the Arkansas schools, that should help.”
The departure of North Alabama, which probably couldn’t happen before the 2013-14, would leave the GSC with only two charter members, Delta State and West Alabama.
But the league isn’t sitting still.
The GSC added a member school on Tuesday, as the University of New Orleans was approved for full membership, effective with the 2012-13 season. The Privateers have vowed to install a football program for the 2015 season.
“UNO brings a lot to the table,” McClain said. “It’s obviously a strong program on a lot of levels. We look forward to developing a rivalry with them.”
New Orleans, a DIvision I member since 1975, saw its student population and programs hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina. “Things changed for them after Katrina, but we are very impressed with where they want to go as an institution,” McClain said.
Another potential GSC member is in Georgia. “The league is in discussions with Shorter University, a strong NAIA program that’s applying for NCAA membership,” McClain said.
The Hawks have a football program that has had four winning seasons in its first six years of operation.
One potential GSC member met a surprising fate, as Lambuth University of Jackson, Tenn., went out of business in the spring.
Meanwhile, the league is partnering with the Texas-based Lone Star Conference for a football series, including an annual showcase game at Cowboys Stadium. North Alabama plays Angelo State in the game this fall.
“It has been a strange couple of years, from a regional standpoint,” McClain said. “Division II is growing – there are maybe 28 schools applying for D-II membership right now – but it’s not necessarily growing in our area. The NCAA really pushes regional play, but we are running out of options.”
Contact John L. Pitts at 678-1522