UTRGV accepts invitation to join Southland Conference

Graphic via UTRGV Athletics.
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The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will join the Southland Conference as a full-time member beginning in July 2024, the UTRGV athletics department announced Monday.

UTRGV will leave the Western Athletic Conference following the 2023-24 season, ending an 11-year run as a member of the WAC.

UTRGV’s move to the Southland will grow the conference to 11 full-time members with Houston Christian, Incarnate Word, Lamar, McNeese, Nicholls, New Orleans, Northwestern State, Southeastern, Texas A&M-Commerce and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

UTRGV will be one of six Texas universities in the Southland Conference, with the other five in Louisiana.

“Our acceptance into the Southland Conference is a testament to the growth and success UTRGV has experienced since we opened in 2015,” UTRGV president Guy Bailey said. “On behalf of UTRGV, I would like to thank the Southland Conference and fellow university presidents for their unwavering support. As we embark on this new journey, we look forward to forging new rivalries and celebrating remarkable academic achievements, a reflection of our shared commitment to excellence both on and off the field. Together, we stand poised to elevate the standards of collegiate athletics while nurturing the academic aspirations of our student-athletes.”

Graphic via UTRGV Athletics.

UTRGV will compete in the Southland Conference in baseball, football, volleyball, women’s soccer, men’s and women’s basketball, cross country, golf, tennis, and indoor and outdoor track & field.

Conference plans for UTRGV’s men’s soccer and women’s swimming & diving programs will be available in the coming months, the UTRGV news release states. The Southland Conference does not sponsor men’s soccer or women’s swimming & diving programs.

The Southland Conference currently features eight universities who compete in football — Houston Christian, Incarnate Word, Lamar, McNeese, Nicholls, Northwestern State, Southeastern and Texas A&M-Commerce. UTRGV’s entrance to the Southland will make it nine when the Vaqueros kickoff their first football season in August 2025.

This graphic shows a rendering of UTRGV Stadium in Edinburg, formally known as H-E-B Park. (Courtesy: UTRGV Athletics)

UTRGV teams currently competing in the WAC will remain eligible to compete for conference championships and NCAA postseason play moving forward.

“Our move to the Southland Conference marks a meaningful day as we look to bolster the student-athlete experience,” UTRGV vice president and director of athletics Chasse Conque said. “Electing to move conferences is a significant decision that requires a great deal of consideration. The Southland Conference is steeped in tradition, and we couldn’t be more excited about joining the league and doing our part to add to its over 60 years of tradition.

“There are many benefits that this move will bring to our student-athletes, fans, and alumni. The Southland Conference is positioned in a tight footprint between Texas and Louisiana. This will allow our student-athletes to spend less time traveling cross-country and more time at home training, recovering, and preparing for competition and will significantly reduce missed class time. With significantly reduced travel, there will be cost savings that allow our department to reinvest in the student-athlete experience in ways we haven’t been able to before.”

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Vice President and Director of Athletics, Chasse Conque, speaks during a groundbreaking for the Vaqueros Performance Center on the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley campus on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

UTRGV’s move from the WAC to the Southland Conference makes sense on multiple levels.

Travel in conference play will become easier for the Vaqueros, who go from taking road trips to face WAC teams in California (California Baptist, Sacramento State), Seattle (Seattle University) and Utah (Southern Utah, Utah Tech, Utah Valley), to playing Southland teams in Louisiana and Texas.

The total roundtrip mileage from UTRGV to all full-time Southland Conference schools is 9,448 miles compared to 22,970 miles roundtrip from UTRGV to all WAC schools, according to UTRGV.

“We are delighted to welcome the Vaqueros and their rich tradition of athletic and academic excellence to the Southland Conference,” Southland Conference commissioner Chris Grant said. “In an era where too many college athletes are pushed beyond reasonable limits by travel related to away games, we are proud to add another great institution to our ‘gas tank league’ featuring rich competition that is easily accessible to our student-athletes, families, and fans. We are thrilled to welcome an incredible institution that strengthens our league and its members while continuing to support and enhance the student-athlete experience.”

Graphic via UTRGV Athletics.

The decreased travel is expected to lead to a significant decrease in total missed class days for UTRGV student-athletes as well as significant savings in travel costs, all of which will be reinvested in the student-athlete experience, the news release states.

It will also ignite in-state rivalries against Southland Conference teams Houston Christian, Incarnate Word, Lamar, Texas A&M-Commerce and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. UTRGV and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi already compete head-to-head in multiple sports as part of their yearly rivalry series titled the South Texas Showdown.

UTRGV was previously a men’s tennis affiliate in the Southland Conference from 2001-13.

UTRGV previously competed against Lamar and New Orleans in the American South Conference (1987-91) and the Sun Belt Conference (1991-98), Houston Christian in the Trans America Athletic Conference (1979-80) and Great West Conference (2009-13), and Lamar in the WAC (2021-22).