The athletic director at Delta State remains confident about the future of the Division II Gulf South Conference, despite reports the league’s six Arkansas members are about to leave.
“The Gulf South has survived change before,” Jeremy McClain said Friday from his office in Cleveland.
“Right now, all of this is still in the talking stage.”
At the same time, McClain and all of his fellow GSC athletic directors are “thinking about the long-term effects,” he said, should the league become fractured.
Reports surfaced Monday that six GSC schools from Arkansas – Arkansas Tech, Harding, Henderson State, Ouachita Baptist, Arkansas-Monticello and Southern Arkansas – plan to form a new league with as many as six Oklahoma schools now in the Lone Star Conference.
McClain, a former Houlka and DSU baseball standout, has been director of athletics at Delta State since 2007. Delta State is a charter member of the 14-member GSC.
“We just found out about all this last weekend,” McClain said. “We’re in a situation where we’d obviously love to hang on to the Arkansas schools. They bring a lot to this conference.”
The Gulf South’s annual meeting is next week in Birmingham. In order to leave the GSC in time to create the new conference for the 2011-12 season, the Arkansas schools will need to give notice soon.
“Over the years there had been rumors, but these latest developments have come as a surprise,” McClain said.
Media reports suggest that the move being pondered by the Arkansas schools is primarily financial, an effort to bring travel costs under control.
If the Arkansas teams depart, that would leave eight schools in the GSC, but only five of those play football – including traditional powers DSU, Valdosta State and North Alabama. That, in turn, would create difficulties in football scheduling and could threaten the league’s D-II playoff viability.
“We still have eight very strong institutions, including several charter members,” McClain said. “I still feel like we’d be a very strong, viable Division II conference.”
The effects on the league’s football programs “would be the No.1 point of concern,” McClain said. “I do think there are some options out there and we are talking about a year or two down the road.”
There’s speculation that Lambuth, a Jackson, Tenn., school making the transition from the NAIA to NCAA Division II, could provide a sixth GSC football squad. So could North Carolina-Pembroke, which competes as a D-II independent in football.
The current uncertainty about the GSC has revived speculation that North Alabama, for one, might consider a move to the NCAA’s Division I, where the football team would compete in the FCS (formerly Division I-AA).
“I think we are where we need to be,” McClain said of Delta State’s membership in Division II. “We’re going to do what’s in the best interest of Delta State, and right now I think that is to see the Gulf South Conference be successful.”
Contact John L. Pitts at 678-1522 or firstname.lastname@example.org
John L. Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal