By Caleb Slinkard
The Commerce Journal
Abilene Christian University and the University of Incarnate Word have both received invitations to join the Southland Conference. Both schools are currently members of the Lone Star Conference, of which Texas A&M University-Commerce is a member.
“Abilene Christian University has received an official invitation from the Southland Conference to join its league and move to NCAA Division I affiliation in all sports,” the school said in a statement. “Because of previous schedule commitments, the football team would begin SLC play in 2014, but all other sports would begin Division I competition with the 2013-14 school year.”
ACU will announce its decision at a press conference on Aug. 25 at 12:30 p.m.
Incarnate Word also announced their invitation Monday and informed the LSC that they would be accepting the invitation later that day.
“At a press conference held August 20, Southland Conference Commissioner Tom Burnett officially invited the University of the Incarnate Word to join the conference, effective July 1, 2013,” according to a university statement. “The membership will coincide with the San Antonio-based institution’s four-year transition to NCAA Division I.”
If both schools accept, they will join the 11 member Southland Conference, which already includes Texas-based Lamar University, Stephen F. Austin State University, Sam Houston State University and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
“The Lone Star Conference has been notified by University of the Incarnate Word of its intentions to affiliate its athletic programs with the Southland Conference, effective next year,” LSC Commissioner Stan Wagnon said in a statement. “We anticipate the school soon will take official action to notify us of its intention to withdraw from LSC membership with an effective date of June 30, 2013. We expect UIW to compete in all approved LSC athletic competitions with other members up to the effective date, as required by LSC policy.”
The LSC is still reeling from the loss of five Oklahoma schools in 2011, which whittled its total number of member universities down to 11. If ACU joins Incarnate Word in leaving for the Southland Conference, the LSC would contain only seven universities that field football teams.
“Also, the league has been alerted by Abilene Christian University that its board will consider at a meeting this weekend a similar invitation to join the Southland,” Wagnon said. “Should ACU choose the Southland for its conference affiliation, we anticipate its school leaders will notify us soon thereafter of ACU’s intention to withdraw from LSC membership under the same parameters and timeline as UIW. Regardless, this week signals the end of a lengthy chapter of speculation about these two schools reclassifying to Division I.”
A&M-Commerce has been a member of the LSC since 1931, when they joined as a charter school. A&M-Commerce is the only charter school that has not moved up to the NCAA Division I FBS or FCS. The future of A&M-Commerce’s Athletic Department leadership is up in the air, with Athletic Director Carlton Cooper currently on indefinite paid administrative leave. Cooper’s five year contract with the university expired on July 1, 2012.