Three Oklahoma schools prepare to leave LSC

Staff and wire reports

Eastern New Mexico University is taking a wait-and-see attitude on the possibility of three Oklahoma schools — and perhaps all five — leaving the Lone Star Conference.

Nine Division II schools in Arkansas and Oklahoma announced plans Tuesday to apply to the NCAA for permission to create a new conference.

Arkansas-Monticello, Arkansas Tech, East Central University, Harding, Henderson State, Ouachita Baptist, Southeastern Oklahoma State, Southern Arkansas and Southwestern Oklahoma State must submit a strategic plan, conference constitution and conference bylaws to the NCAA by Dec. 1.

The Arkansas schools are currently in the Gulf South Conference, and the Oklahoma schools are in the Lone Star.

Athletic schedules for the 2010-11 season will not be affected, but it’s unclear whether the schools will try to play in their new league for 2011-12. The LSC says its policy is that the Oklahoma schools’ withdrawal would be effective in June 2012, and schools could face financial penalties if they don’t play conference games until then.

Gulf South commissioner Nate Salant said the Arkansas schools are required to stay in the league for two more years, but they can request a waiver. He said his league has already been in expansion talks with other institutions and could look into scheduling agreements with other leagues.

The loss of the Arkansas schools would leave the Gulf South with just five football programs. The league would have eight schools overall in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee.

The Lone Star would be down to 13 members with these departures, with schools in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Central Oklahoma and Northeastern State are considering a move to the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.

“I hate to see those schools leave the Lone Star, but for us it’s kind of wait-and-see,” ENMU athletic director Jeff Geyser said Tuesday night. “I’ve got confidence we’re going to continue to be a strong Division II conference, and I feel we’re were we need to be.”

Geyser said the ADs of the other LSC schools are slated to meet next Wednesday to see where the conference stands.

ENMU football coach Mark Ribaudo, whose team will move from the LSC South to the North Division for the next two years, said his team will play wherever the schedule says.

“The way we see it is we’re going to play,” Ribaudo said. “If they want us in the North (with the Oklahoma schools and Texas A&M-Commerce), we’ll play in the North; if they want us in the South, we’ll play in the South.”

Volleyball coach Mike Maguire, who served as ENMU’s athletic director from 2002-08, said he’d like to see the LSC stay the same.

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens,” he said. “I was kind of hoping (the Oklahoma schools) would stay put, but it doesn’t look like that’ll happen.”

The schools proposing the move say they are trying to limit travel costs.

“It’s so much easier for the fans,” Arkansas Tech athletic director Steve Mullins said. “It’s so much easier for the student-athletes, too. There’s just a difference between riding in a bus five hours and 15 hours — particularly after the contest.”