Richardson, TX - The Gulf South Conference and Lone Star Conference have joined forces to create the GSC-LSC First and Ten Challenge, a regular season football series set to debut in 2012 that will match up football teams from two of the top conferences in Division II.
The event will include a total of 10 inter-conference games involving all five of the GSC’s football-playing members (Delta State, North Alabama, Valdosta State, West Alabama and West Georgia) and six of the LSC’s nine (Abilene Christian, Angelo State, Midwestern State, Tarleton State, Texas A&M-Kingsville and West Texas A&M).
In 2012, the Blazers will travel to Texas to play Angelo State on Sept. 15. They will host Texas A&M-Kingsville on Nov. 3. VSU’s game at Angelo State is tentatively planned as part of the Lone Star Football Festival.
The 2011 Lone Star Football Festival is being played in the Dallas Cowboys’ new $1.5 billion stadium, so the Blazers will get to play in one of the world’s premier sporting facilities and the site of this year’s Super Bowl.
The Blazers have never played Angelo State. They hosted Texas A&M-Kingsville in the 2002 national semifinals, and beat the Javelinas 21-12 to advance to the national championship game.
“I want to commend commissioner Nate Salant and the athletics administrators at Gulf South Conference institutions for their spirit of cooperation in creating this challenge event,” LSC commissioner Stan Wagnon said. “Those associated with Lone Star Conference football are excited to join the GSC in this effort, and we’re committed to ensuring this event becomes a showcase for the NCAA and particularly for the tremendous football being played in Division II.”
All five GSC teams will play one home game and one road game as part of the event, as will Abilene Christian, Midwestern State, Tarleton State and Texas A&M-Kingsville from the LSC. LSC members Angelo State and West Texas A&M will play one game apiece.
The other eight contests are: Abilene Christian at Delta State (Sept. 27), Midwestern State at West Alabama (Oct. 4), Delta State at Tarleton State (Oct. 4), North Alabama at Texas A&M-Kingsville (Oct. 6), West Texas A&M at West Georgia (Oct. 25), Tarleton State at North Alabama (Nov. 1), West Alabama at Abilene Christian (Nov. 3) and West Georgia at Midwestern State (Nov. 10).
Of the 10 games, five have been scheduled for Thursday night, and four of those are tentatively set to be televised live.
“When I canvassed our fans and asked about the idea of seeing teams like Abilene Christian, Texas A&M-Kingsville and West Texas A&M on their campuses, there was a lot of excitement and interest,” GSC commissioner Nate Salant said. “Our fans know the Lone Star schools and view them as high-quality opponents. Stan tells me that Lone Star folks see GSC schools the same way, so we think this will spike home attendance on both sides. It’s also the kind of cross-region, almost national, inter-conference play that football fans hunger for, so we believe we’re addressing a real appetite.”
The event is being created for two general purposes. First, both conferences are partnering to address a mutual need for additional non-conference games due to the conference membership changes that have occurred in recent months. And the football programs from both conferences are highly competitive and desire to play the very best non-conference competition as a means of better preparing for Division II postseason competition.
The First and Ten Challenge name was chosen to symbolize the beginning of a “new set of downs” for both conferences after going through recent membership changes, with the LSC set to move forward with nine football-playing members next year, while the GSC starts anew with five football-playing members in 2012.
Only Texas A&M-Kingsville’s matchups against North Alabama and VSU are rematches. The other eight games will be first-time meetings.
GSC football teams have claimed 10 national championships, including seven of the past 19. LSC football teams have tallied 14 national titles, most recently in 1982.
“Both conferences have a tremendous amount of pride in their football programs,” Wagnon said. “For the LSC, it’s been too long since we’ve crowned a national champion. The football is too good in this conference, and it’s time we asserted ourselves again on the national stage. These games against the Gulf South certainly will keep our teams in the national conversation, and it’s my belief the stronger competition will serve our teams well as they advance into the postseason. We’ve had teams knocking on the door for 10-15 years now, and I hope 5-10 years from now, people will look at this challenge event and recognize it as a turning point that helped LSC teams take that next step.”
Officials from both leagues think the event has great potential for sponsorship opportunities and television exposure. Gaining financial support through corporate partnerships will help to ensure the success of this event, due to the high travel costs associated with making the long trips between GSC and LSC campuses.
“The 10 games we’ve lined up for this event are marquee match-ups,” Wagnon said. “The lineup of games just doesn’t get any better in Division II, so certainly we think the event will provide a unique sponsorship opportunity. It will have far greater reach than a typical athletic event involving regional universities, as the exposure for this event will span the entire length of the football season, with visibility in key markets in Texas and throughout the southeastern United States.”
The event has the potential for television exposure as well, with the GSC being the nation’s first Division II conference to have its own broadcast network. Each year, 10 GSC football games are broadcast via Charter Sports South, reaching millions of households in the Southeast. Officials from both leagues are working to build upon the GSC’s efforts, and expand coverage into Texas markets for the games in this event.
While only the match-ups for 2012 have been settled, both conferences have expressed interest in continuing this event in future years. Plans for 2013 and beyond will be determined as early as this spring.