Southland Race Gets More Interesting With Mandated ForfeituresPosted by Adam Stillman on January 9th, 2014
Man, what a crazy season it’s been for the Southland Conference. It’s only January, but the league has already found itself in the news a couple of times, and that’s without any shocking upsets. It started in early December when Oral Roberts announced it would return to its original stomping grounds — the Summit League — for the 2014-15 season. Then it was announced on Wednesday that Stephen F. Austin and Oral Roberts would be forfeiting games based on a misunderstanding of NCAA scheduling rules.
That about explains it all right there. Basically NCAA Division I programs aren’t allowed to play more than four games against non-Division I programs in any given year, regardless of whether they’re exhibition or regular season contests. To date, Stephen F. Austin has played two regular season games and one exhibition contest against non-D-I opponents, while Oral Roberts has faced a four non-D-I teams in the exhibition and regular seasons. That’s not more than four, you might say, so what’s the beef? Alas, a pair of Southland Conference teams will count against that tally. With Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word transitioning from Division II to Division I this season, those two programs still technically count as non-Division I programs. After playing Abilene Christian on January 30 (its fourth) Stephen F. Austin will forfeit a home game to Incarnate Word on February 1 (its fifth), while Oral Roberts will forfeit a January 16 game at Abilene Christian (its fifth) and a January 18 contest at Incarnate Word (its sixth).
So what does this all mean? Well, that’s where it gets a little confusing. The forfeited games will count as losses in the league standings, which therefore will affect the seeding of the conference tournament. The NCAA, however, will not recognize the forfeits as losses, instead counting them as no-contests. While no team in the Southland will get near an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament, this scenario could affect who the league ultimately sends to the Big Dance. Stephen F. Austin is the league favorite, sitting at 13-2 and 2-0 in conference play as of today. The only other team in the league above .500 is Incarnate Word, yet the Cardinals’ lone game against a Division I opponent was a loss to North Texas in December. Incarnate Word, along with Abilene Christian, are ineligible for the Southland Conference Tournament. Oral Roberts, for reference, is 7-8 overall and 1-1 in league play.
Three other teams in the Southland — Nicholls State, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and McNeese State — all own perfect 2-0 league records. Now the favorite Stephen F. Austin will add two automatic losses to its conference record. While an unbeaten conference slate the rest of the way would almost certainly give the Lumberjacks the top seed in the postseason tournament, that’s easier said than done. Ken Pomeroy places Stephen F. Austin as the favorite in all of its league games, with the Lumberjacks projected as double-figure favorites in all but four. While the Southland Tournament is held at a neutral site in Katy, Texas, a lower seed would obviously make the road to an automatic NCAA Tournament berth a little tougher for Stephen F. Austin. The top-seeded Lumberjacks dropped a two-point decision to Northwestern State in last season’s conference championship game, showing there’s no guarantee it would find itself in the Big Dance even with just a regular season title. While SFA remains the favorite to represent the Southland in the Big Dance, the forfeiture of these two games makes its path just a little tougher.