There are very few places in the United States that the latest realignment moves haven’t impacted. That includes Texas where the recent cascade of movements was kickstarted by Oklahoma and Texas leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. At least Texas is living up to the moniker “Everything is bigger in Texas” and this extended to dominos of realignment with UCLA and USC jumping to the Big Ten and the Pac-12 falling apart. While the flagship university of Texas has garnered a lot of headlines, there have been numerous changes at the FCS, Division 2, and Division 3 levels that have gone under the radar. We will take a look at some of these changes and discuss some of the implications as well. Let’s start with the Southland-WAC seesaw that has unfolded since late 2020.

Texas Exodus From Southland… and the Partial Return

In October 2020, the Texas Four – Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State, and Stephen F. Austin – decided to leave the Southland Conference for the WAC starting with the 2021-22 season. At this point, things looked bleak for the Southland as they had also lost Central Arkansas to the ASUN leaving them with seven football members. In November 2021, Incarnate Word announced they would move to the WAC for the 2022-23 academic year which left the Southland with only five eligible football members.

To compensate for the losses, the Southland brought in Division 2 member Texas A&M-Commerce but it’s a 4-year transition period to become a fully eligible Division 1 member leaving an uncomfortable automatic qualifier situation. Then the summer of 2022 happened when Incarnate Word decided not to join the WAC and Lamar moved back to the Southland with both moves effective for 2022-23. It was quite the resurgence for the Southland after being on life support to maintain its AQ status. Below is a table showing how the Southland membership has changed.

Southland 2019Southland 2021 ChangesSouthland 2022 Changes2023 Membership2024 Changes
Abilene ChristianAbilene Christian
(Left for WAC)
Incarnate Word
(Stayed in Southland)
Houston ChristianNone
Central ArkansasCentral Arkansas
(Left for ASUN)
Lamar
(Returned from WAC)
Incarnate Word
Houston ChristianLamar
(Left for WAC)
Texas A&M-Commerce
(Joined from D2 Lone Star)
Lamar
Incarnate WordSam Houston State
(Left for WAC)
McNeese
LamarStephen F. Austin
(Left for WAC)
Nicholls
McNeeseNorthwestern State
NichollsSoutheastern Louisiana
Northwestern StateTexas A&M-Commerce
Sam Houston State
Southeastern Louisiana
Stephen F. Austin


Meanwhile, Sam Houston State joined the FBS in 2023-24 as they left the WAC to join Conference USA. At the same time, the ASUN and WAC merged to form the football-only United Athletic Conference beginning with the 2023-24 season. The UAC has 9 members but Tarleton State and Utah Tech are not fully Division 1 eligible.

The UAC will welcome West Georgia in 2024-25 along with its four-year transition timeframe. Furthermore, UTRGV will join in 2025 as they announced plans to start a football team. The Vaqueros will be immediately eligible for the FCS Playoffs as a fully eligible Division 1 school, which will help the UAC maintain automatic qualifying status for a playoff spot. On top of that, there’s the possibility UT Arlington will add football in the next few years to strengthen the AQ situation further. However, there’s the looming threat that current members Stephen F. Austin and Tarleton State do not stick around leaving the UAC in an interesting position.



WAC 2021 – Football Restarted2022 Changes2023 Changes – Merged with ASUN to form United Athletic2024 Teams2025 Changes
Abilene ChristianSouthern Utah
(Joined from Big Sky)
Sam Houston State
(Leaving for C-USA)
Abilene Christian (WAC)UT Rio Grande Valley
(Starting football)
LamarLamar
(Returned to Southland)
Austin Peay (ASUN)
Sam Houston StateIncarnate Word
(Stayed in Southland)
Central Arkansas (ASUN)
Stephen F. AustinEastern Kentucky (ASUN)
Tarleton StateNorth Alabama (ASUN)
Utah TechSouthern Utah (WAC)
Stephen F. Austin (WAC)
Tarleton State (WAC)
Utah Tech (WAC)
West Georgia (ASUN)


The FBS Reshuffle

There are 13 universities in the FBS from the state of Texas and seven of them already have or will be changing conferences in the next year with a potential for more changes. The Texas to SEC news led to the following dominoes:

Remember, these seven moves (including Texas) are happening at the FBS level only and we don’t know the full extent of the realignment changes with all the other possible moves. In the table below, we listed the Texas-based teams first but also listed additional changes at the FBS level spurred by the Longhorns’ and Sooners’ move to the SEC. We also listed Stephen F. Austin and Tarleton State as rumored possibilities, which could be an additional two Texas-based FBS schools down the road.



2023 Changes (4):
AAC/Indy to Big 12
2023 Changes (5):
C-USA to AAC
2023 Changes (5):
Joining C-USA
2024 Changes (3):
AAC to ACC
Big 12 to SEC
Rumored Possibilities (2)
HoustonNorth TexasSam Houston State
(From FCS WAC)
SMU
(To ACC)
Stephen F. Austin
(Currently in FCS UAC)
CincinnatiRiceJacksonville State
(From FCS ASUN)
Texas
(To SEC)
Tarleton State
(Currently in FCS UAC)
Central FloridaUT-San AntonioKennesaw State
(From FCS Independent in 2024)
Oklahoma
(To SEC)
BYUCharlotteLiberty
(From FBS Independent)
Florida AtlanticNew Mexico State
(From FBS Independent)
UAB


Lone Star Conference: A Resilient Revolving Door

The Division 2 Lone Star Conference has proven to be quite the hotbed for college football changes. In 2010, the LSC was a 14-team league before 5 teams left to join the Great American Conference or become independent the following season. Following the 2012 season, the duo of Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word left the LSC to join the Southland.

The LSC has also shown a willingness to take on non-traditional teams. In 2014-15, McMurry (Abilene, Texas) spent one season in the conference before retreating back to Division 3 the following year. A similar scenario occurred in 2016-17 when Oklahoma Panhandle State spent a year in the conference before dropping down to the NAIA level (OPSU was a Division 2 member for 20 years but the writing was on the wall). The 2016-17 season also saw the LSC bring in UT-Permian Basian – a new football program – and Western New Mexico from the RMAC.

In 2020, Tarleton State left the Lone Star Conference to join the WAC and the aforementioned Texas A&M-Commerce left to join the Southland for the 2022-23 academic year. Why have the history lessons about the LSC membership since 2010?

The Lone Star Conference is still a proving ground for teams but the ranks have thinned and the number of Texas-based teams has dwindled. Out of the FBS (13), FCS (7 and will be 8 in 2025 with UTRGV), D2 (5 and soon to be 6 with Sul Ross State in 2024), and D3 (10), Division 2 has the fewest amount of Texas-based football programs with 5. The 2017 NCAA Division 2 champions Texas A&M-Commerce were one of only two LSC teams to reach the semifinals since 2010. The other occurrence was in 2012 when West Texas A&M lost 41-18 to Winston-Salem State 41-18. Guess which Texas-based team has been linked with a potential move to D1?

We’re not trying to say that the Lone Star Conference is bad by any stretch of the imagination but we feel obligated to acknowledge that losing top teams to other conferences or divisions can make it tough to reload. On the upside, however, is that the LSC still has some good teams like Angelo State, Midwestern State, and West Texas A&M to name a few. In addition, they also brought in three affiliate football members in Central Washington, Simon Fraser, and Western Oregon after the GNAC stopped sponsoring football but Simon Fraser dropped football in the spring of 2023.



2020 Changes2022 Changes2023 Changes2024 ChangesPossible Departures
Tarleton State
(Left for FCS WAC)
Texas A&M-Commerce
(Left for FCS Southland)
Simon Fraser
(Football Dropped)
Sul Ross State
(Joining from D3 American Southwest)
Angelo State
Central Washington
(Football-only affiliate from GNAC)
Midwestern State
Simon Fraser
(Football-only affiliate from GNAC)
West Texas A&M
Western Oregon
(Football-only affiliate from GNAC)


Division 3: A Mostly Compact Group but Big Changes Are on the Horizon

The Texas-based Division 3 schools have not been immune from changes during the latest realignment cycle. As of the 2022 season, 9 of the 10 Division 3 college football programs played in the American Southwest Conference (ASC) headlined by the perennial power Mary Hardin-Baylor along with Hardin-Simmons. The one Texas team not in the ASC is Trinity which plays in the Southern Athletic Association.

All that will change by 2024 when the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) will begin sponsoring football. Sul Ross State is leaving D3 entirely to move up to Division 2 and join the Lone Star Conference. Austin College and McMurry will both be part of the initial wave of teams to join the SCAC as football members. There are also 2 non-Texas schools that will join the SCAC. Centenary College (Shreveport, Louisiana) is bringing back football while Lyon College (Batesville, Arkansas) is moving up from the NAIA to join the SCAC as a football affiliate. Both schools will join the SCAC in 2024.

Southwestern was a football-only affiliate of the ASC but left after the 2022-23 academic year and moved to the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) as a football-only affiliate beginning with the 2023-24 academic year. Southwestern will leave the SCAC to join the SAA as a full member beginning with the 2025-26 academic year. They will be joined by Trinity, which is already a football-only affiliate of the SAA. The final school we haven’t mentioned is Schreiner University located in Kerrville, Texas. According to the SCAC’s press release, Schreiner is starting a football team that will compete in the SCAC in either 2025 or 2026.

SCAC Future Football Membership Changes

2023-24 Members2023 Changes2024 Changes2025 Changes2026 Changes
AustinNoneAustin
(Football joining from ASC)
Hendrix
(Joining from SAA)
Schreiner
(Adding football no later than 2026)
Centenary (LA)Concordia (TX)
(Joining from ASC)
LeTourneau
(Joining from ASC)
Colorado CollegeCentenary (LA)
(Adding football)
Southwestern (TX)
(Leaving for SAA)
DallasLyon
(Football joining from D3 Independent)
Trinity (TX)
(Leaving for SAA)
SchreinerMcMurry
(Joining from ASC)
Southwestern (TX)Texas Lutheran
(Football Joining from ASC)
St. Thomas (TX)University of the Ozarks
(Joining from ASC)
Texas Lutheran
Trinity (TX)

ASC Future Football Membership Changes

2021 Teams2022 Changes2023 Changes2024 Changes2025 Teams
Austin CollegeBelhaven
(Left for USA South)
Southwestern (TX)
(Left for SAA)
Austin College
(Leaving for SCAC)
Mary Hardin-Baylor
BelhavenMcMurry
(Leaving for SCAC)
Hardin-Simmons
East Texas BaptistSul Ross State
(Leaving for D2 Lone Star)
Howard Payne
Hardin-SimmonsTexas Lutheran
(Leaving for SCAC)
East Texas Baptist
Howard Payne
Mary Hardin-Baylor
McMurry
Southwestern (TX)
Sul Ross State
Texas Lutheran


To recap, the ASC will lose four football programs in 2024: Austin College, McMurry, Sul Ross State, and Texas Lutheran with all but SRSU going to the SCAC. The big takeaway is that the ASC will need to find 5th and 6th football members by the 2026 season in order to maintain its automatic bid to the Division 3 Playoffs. All that assumes no remaining members also leave the ASC, a possibility that has increased with all the other departures.

It would be an interesting turn of events if a powerhouse like UMHB no longer had access to an AQ bid but they would likely be an at-large selection most years if they maintain a strong schedule. However, it is something to keep an eye on over the next few years, especially with the speculative report that the FCS may be a path for Mary Hardin-Baylor although other possibilities exist for the ASC including potential mergers in football.

Summary

Every level of college football in Texas has been impacted by recent realignment changes from the FBS down to the Division 3 level. Given the popularity of football in the state, it’s not surprising schools are trying to put their football programs in the best position to succeed. As we said in the opening paragraph, everything is bigger in Texas and that includes realignment. The realignment moves may not be over for Lone Star State either.

Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics

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