Last week the Southland Conference handed down mandatory forfeits to Stephen F. Austin and Oral Roberts due to violations in the rule book against scheduling more than four games in a single season against competition outside Division I.
The Southland was following proper protocol, and the NCAA said it would not count the games as forfeits even if the Southland had to within its own books. But on Thursday the league announced the NCAA's Division I Subcommittee for Legislative Relief (SLR) granted "a blanket waiver of Bylaw 126.96.36.199, allowing the league to play what had presumed to be forfeited men's and women's basketball games."
The crux of the matter is this: The Southland has teams new to its league this year that are still in a transitional stage from Division I to Division II. Abilene Christian and Incarnate Words are those teams. Stephen F. Austin and Oral Roberts did not anticipate those games would be counted as non-Division I when they scheduled their non-conference with some other non-DI teams.
"We are very pleased the NCAA staff and the SLR saw fit to review this issue, and that our student-athletes aren't harmed by the possibilities of forfeitures," Southland commissioner Tom Burnett said in a statement. "The Southland's Executive Committee has reviewed the outcome of the waiver request, and has rescinded its previous actions, and we are excited that all games we planned to cancel, or were canceled, will be played fully as scheduled or rescheduled."
But this decision still has serious impact and brings up an uncomfortable situation within the league. McNeese State -- which is also a part of the Southland -- applied for a waiver earlier this season after being pinned in a precarious situation in the NIT Season Tip-Off November tournament that had teams involved from outside Division I.
McNeese State was bracketed against Stillman College, a game it was not factoring into its schedule. The only reason this came to be was because the NCAA could not get enough D-I teams into the NIT. So, when forced into this situation, knowing it could break the rule due to Incarnate Word and Abilene Christian being in the league, it applied for a waiver. That waiver was denied, so McNeese State had to cancel a scheduled home game against Dillard University, an NAIA school, essentially losing money in the process.
McNeese State was aware of a possible forfeit, was proactive in trying to help its case, and wound up losing a game. Stephen F. Austin and Oral Roberts were caught later and have no punishment going against them. Fair?