First-year New Orleans athletic director Derek Morel is holding a press conference today to formally announce that the school's athletic department will remain in Division I and become a member of the Southland conference.
I spoke with him about it last night.
He was excited.
"It's a big moment for the university after a lot of years of uncertainty," Morel said by phone. "It's a good time."
This is a significant day for New Orleans (as my colleague Matt Norlander pointed out earlier in the week) because it ensures the athletic department will continue to compete at the Division I level after it appeared set to first join the Division III ranks, then Division II. That's where this was headed. It would've been another tangible setback of Hurricane Katrina. But UNO president Peter Fos subsequently got things moving in the Southland's direction, and Morel aided him when he was hired in May. Today represents a culmination of their work.
"When I came on board this was already in the works because of Dr. Fos, who has great vision for the university and an understanding of the value of successful Division I athletics," Morel told me. "We knew all along from the outset that we had to have an identity, and if you're an independent at our level there really isn't an identity, especially in a pro city like this. We knew having an identity was necessary to expand our brand back into the market place. So this is perfect. And we're so grateful to [Southland] commissioner Tom Burnett and the entire executive team at the Southland conference. To get to this point is an exciting thing for the city, the university, the alumni and the students."