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Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Curious Case of the SWAC

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It’s not often where the conference favorite is winless after thirteen games. It’s also not very often that a team doesn’t play a home game until January.

Well, it’s starting to happen in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Grambling State and Texas Southern have not had a single home game against a Division-I opponent all year. Five teams in the SWAC remain winless, including preseason favorite Texas Southern. Three teams are 4-9, which stands as a three-way tie for best in the conference, and seven of those twelve total wins come against Division-II teams.

Texas Southern is 0-13 yet still stands as the widely accepted favorite to win their fourth SWAC title in five seasons. According to ESPN’s RPI, the Tigers have the toughest schedule in the nation.

On the court issues aren’t the only thing plaguing the SWAC. In the 2015 SWAC tournament, the conference semifinal game between Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern was the defacto championship game. This is because Alabama State and Southern, who faced off in the other semifinal game, were both ineligible due to the NCAA’s APR penalties. This year, Alabama A&M and Grambling State will be ineligible because of APR.

Teams like Texas Southern have their reasons to play a difficult non-conference schedule, and that reason is simple: Money.

According to The Advocate, in 2014-15 the SWAC lost a total of $2,486,215 across all sports. This causes schools to have their basketball teams play bigger teams in which they’ll be rewarded with a guaranteed payout. The payout is to entice the smaller schools to play a game that will most likely end in a lopsided defeat. For athletic programs that struggle with financial issues, these are the opportunities they’re taking to pull in needed money.

Some view this as an issue, but Texas Southern head coach Mike Davis views it as an overall opportunity to teach his players lessons that’ll help them out in life.

“It’s a planned thing that I do because in life there’s going to be challenge,” Davis told NCAA.com. “I’m giving my team the opportunity to face those challenges to prepare them for life, and also face these challenges so it prepares us for our conference. We’re never going to face teams in the SWAC that are as good as these teams. The only way you can get better is through struggle.”

Davis isn’t wrong when it comes to his criticism of the SWAC. Playing teams like Gonzaga, Kansas, Baylor and TCU will prepare his Tigers for conference play.

The biggest issue with scheduling mostly heavyweights is the reputation it gives the SWAC. When it’s nearing the halfway point in the regular season and five out of the ten teams don’t have a single win; that doesn’t even scratch being a mid-level conference. Unfortunately, there isn’t a short-term answer besides continuing to schedule the Power-5 and high-tier mid-major schools to earn a big paycheck. In 2014-15, only two SWAC schools made a profit.

Down the road, though, there needs to be a change and teams need to start vying to be more competitive. Whether that means scheduling teams that are at their level or just above it, players won’t want to attend schools to be known as the nation’s punching bag.
It’s very difficult for a team in the SWAC to earn an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. Instead of trying win as many games as they can, teams swallow their pride and play the top teams in the country in order to prepare them for conference play. It adds a lot of importance to the SWAC Conference tournament, something that we don’t see in some of the major conferences.

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