Less than a month after Dr. Peter Fos was named president of the University of New Orleans last December, he contacted Southland Conference commissioner Tom Burnett.
A pair of meetings, one in Baton Rouge and another in Dallas, set in motion the chain of events that ended Thursday with UNO becoming the newest member of the Southland.
It was hard to tell who was happier at the official announcement inside Lakefront Arena – Dr. Fos, Burnett, new UNO athletic director Derek Morel or the dozens of Privateer administrators, coaches, student-athletes and supporters on hand.
Burnett spent 13 years in New Orleans working at the American South and Sun Belt conference offices, with UNO as a member all the while, so as much as anyone, he understands the sleeping giant that resides on the Lakefront.
"I think we got a steal here," Burnett said. "This is huge for the Southland Conference."
Not only does UNO bring to the table a history and legacy in athletics that includes NCAA Tournament appearances in men's and women's basketball and a College World Series appearance in baseball, but it delivers a major market that the Southland has only touched on the fringes until now.
The patriarch of much of the Privateers' past success, former athletic director and baseball coach Ron Maestri, watched from the front row Thursday.
"There was no question what camp he resided in," Burnett said, referring to Maestri's pleas over the last three years to maintain the program at a Division I level, "and the passion he showed for the athletic department he helped build."
As for the New Orleans market, you have to believe Burnett and his group of athletic directors will look long and hard at the Crescent City and its plethora of facilities when it comes to selecting sites for conference championships. After all, UNO, Southeastern Louisiana and Nicholls are all within an hour's drive and three other schools (McNeese State, Lamar and Northwestern State) are a four-hour drive or less from the city.
The first task for the growing group of ADs will come next week, when it decides on a scheduling format for all sports for the 2013-14 season. The Southland will be a 14-team league in most sports since Abilene Christian's Board of Trustees voted to join the league on Friday night.
While news of the invite did not get out until Tuesday, Fos actually accepted the invitation last Friday, but was sworn to secrecy.
The axiom that athletics serves as the front porch of the university is true. That made Thursday's news big not just for UNO athletics, but for the university as a whole.
"Having a conference affiliation is essential. This is about letting people know this is a major university," Fos said. "We never were not Division I, but we were fading away."
Now, for the first time since a lady named Katrina washed ashore seven years ago this month, the silver and blue colors on the lakefront are shining bright.
And it's only just beginning.
"Today," Morel said, "is the commencement of many, many exciting days ahead."
Interestingly, no one at the news conference portion of the event uttered the "f-word" – football. Fos and Morel have been coy about any football discussions until now, but you can expect a study on adding the sport to take place in short order.
Then it will be about money. It could take north of $10 million to get a program started.
But with the Privateers' newfound momentum and leadership, don't rule out anything at this point.
|< Prev||Next >|