Photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
ALPINE, Texas- The story of conference realignment within the American Southwest Conference continues to unfold, and on Thursday afternoon, another piece of information was brought forth, with Dave Campbell’s Texas Football reporting that Sul Ross State will transition to D-II membership and the Lonestar Conference beginning in 2024.
This means the ASC, without adding new members, will officially be down to just four football-sponsoring schools by 2026: UMHB, Hardin-Simmons, East Texas Baptist, and Howard Payne.
This news of conference and division realignment began in October 2022, when McMurry announced it would move all 20 of its varsity sports to the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference in 2024. A day later, the SCAC announced its decision to bring back football as a conference-sponsored sport, meaning all current SCAC members who field football teams need to move their football programs back into the conference no later than 2026. This includes Texas Lutheran and Austin College, currently playing as affiliate members in the ASC. Southwestern was part of the ASC as a football affiliate through this past season, as the Pirates had been scheduled to join the SAA as a football affiliate since August 2021. Their first season in the SAA will be this fall
With SRSU now leaving for D-II, the number of current schools fielding football programs in the conference is two below the required minimum for an NCAA playoff automatic bid. If the ASC were to head into 2026 without having added member schools with football programs, the conference would no longer be eligible to automatically send a team to the postseason, with ASC schools such as UMHB and Hardin-Simmons forced to compete for either a Pool B bid (given to schools from conferences who do not have the required number of teams for an automatic qualifier, though there is a required number of schools that must be eligible for a Pool B bid to be awarded by the playoff committee) or a Pool C (at-large) bid.
Another option, as noted by DCTF’s Cory Hogue, is a sort of alliance with a neigboring D-III conference that also sponsors football and would be willing to merge to some degree in order to keep an automatic playoff bid. The SAA was a possibility Hogue mentioned, as the conference “will lose Trinity to the SCAC and is dealing with rumors of Birmingham-Southern closing unless it receives $37.5 million in funding from the Alabama Legislature. If the legislature approves, the money would serve as a stopgap while BSC continues its massive fundraising efforts.”
This move by SRSU impacts football more than any other sport, as the ASC does have three non-football playing members in UT-Dallas, Concordia (TX), Ozarks. As long as those three remain in the league, the conference’s automatic bid for sports like basketball, baseball, and softball remains intact.
SRSU was a charter member of the ASC in 1996, but was previously affiliated with the LSC, when the LSC was an NAIA league. The Lobos were a member of the conference from 1950-1976.
Talk of SRSU moving up to D-II and joining the LSC had been a discussion topic for quite some time, even going back to November 2022, when, as shown in the video below, SRSU Interim President Dr. Carlos Hernandez answered questions from the TSUS Board of Regents. The board later approved SRSU to begin the process of negotiating a contract with the LSC.
This article will be updated as more information becomes available.