University of New Orleans to Join Southland Conference

The Southland Conference and the University of New Orleans announced Thursday that the institution will become the newest member of the league, effective July 1, 2013.

Currently a Division I independent program that competed in the Sun Belt Conference until 2010, New Orleans will participate in 14 of the Southland’s 17 sponsored championships, including men’s sports basketball, baseball, cross country, golf, tennis, and indoor and outdoor track and field. On the women’s side, UNO will compete in basketball, cross country, golf, tennis, indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball. In 2013-14, the athletic program will receive Southland schedules in all sports, joining men’s tennis that currently is an affiliate member of the conference.

“The Southland Conference Board of Directors is delighted to announce this offer of membership to the University of New Orleans,” said Dr. Baker Pattillo, Southland Board Chairman and the president at Stephen F. Austin State University. “We are pleased to learn of the institution’s acceptance of our offer, and we are gratified by the visionary leadership of President Peter Fos as he sets a positive course for the university. The Southland presidents anticipate a great partnership with the university, its athletic program and the great city of New Orleans.”

“Finding a conference home in the Southland is significant for the University of New Orleans because it will allow us to reestablish our proud Division I athletic tradition,” said UNO president Peter J. Fos. “Southland membership gives our student-athletes an opportunity to compete for championships, play in the postseason and receive recognition for their academic achievements.

“We think the Southland is a great fit for the University of New Orleans on a lot of levels,” Fos continued. “First of all, the geographic footprint of the conference is ideal. It will allow our student-athletes to miss minimal time in the classroom so that they’ll perform at a high level both in their sports and in their studies. Our membership in the Southland will also increase the visibility of the UNO brand in areas where we already have a large alumni base as well as other communities where we hope to increase our recruiting efforts.”

“It’s another proud day for the Southland Conference as the addition of the University of New Orleans further solidifies our future success,” added Southland commissioner Tom Burnett. “This is a major urban and research institution that clearly brings added value to the league. In addition to strong academic performance throughout the institution, the athletic department has always enjoyed a historic record of competitive success. We expect UNO to be a great member of the Southland Conference.”

UNO, which recently joined the University of Louisiana System, has conferred over 70,000 degrees in more than five decades, and continues to serve the cultural, social, economic and intellectual needs of the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana.

“We are very grateful to Dr. Baker Patillo, commissioner Tom Burnett and the Southland Conference for the opportunity to become part of their family,” said UNO athletics director Derek Morel. “It is a very exciting and highly anticipated achievement for the University of New Orleans, our alumni, students and loyal supporters throughout the New Orleans area. Our membership in the Southland Conference is a direct result of Dr. Fos’ grand vision and steadfast desire to lead the University of New Orleans to a new level of excellence.

“Membership in the Southland Conference gives our intercollegiate athletics program a true identity. Our coaches and student-athletes understand and appreciate the opportunity before them. We intend to be a highly competitive member of the Southland Conference. We will strive to win championships and produce well-prepared, successful graduates of the University of New Orleans.”

From its beginning in 1969, UNO’s athletic program has enjoyed a storied history, including its formative years as a Division II powerhouse, earning national rankings and winning national championships. The UNO men’s golf program won consecutive DII national championships in 1971 and 1972, and its men’s basketball and baseball teams both played in NCAA championship games. The program joined Division I in 1975, and became a charter member of the Sun Belt Conference in 1976.

New Orleans won an infamous Sun Belt tournament championship game over South Alabama in 1978 by a 22-20 final score that helped usher in the use of a shot clock in the NCAA. The UNO men’s basketball team has played in four NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championships, and finished the 1987 and 1993 seasons ranked in the final Associated Press national polls. Its women’s basketball program has also enjoyed success, winning the Women’s NIT in 1983.

UNO has also played a significant role in serving as host to many NCAA postseason events in New Orleans, including the 1987, 1993, and 2003 NCAA Men’s Final Fours, the 1991 Women’s Final Four, and the 2002 Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship.

Its baseball program, under the legendary leadership of Ron Maestri, became the first Louisiana school to reach the Division I College World Series in 1984, and has consistently competed for postseason berths since then. Dozens of former UNO student-athletes have gone on to productive careers in professional baseball.

UNO’s on-campus athletic facilities include the renovated 10,000-seat Kiefer UNO Lakefront Arena, opened in 1983 as home to Privateers’ basketball, the UNO Aquatic Center, and practice courts for basketball and volleyball. The facility also ranks among the nation’s top revenue-producing multi-purpose and entertainment venues of its size.

Currently undergoing a major renovation with new grandstand seating and a press box, Ron Maestri Field at Privateer Park remains one of the South’s finest baseball facilities. The facility has twice played host to NCAA Division I regionals and also served as the home facility of the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs in 1993.

The University Tennis Center is one of the premier tennis facilities in the South, featuring 20 deco-turf hard courts and six red clay courts. In addition to UNO tennis teams, the facility annually hosts numerous USTA professional events and adult leagues, as well as other college and high school tournaments.

The Human Performance Center is the primary facility for UNO volleyball, and served as the former home of the basketball teams. Historic Tad Gormley Stadium, located in New Orleans’ City Park, is home for the UNO track & field teams and also hosts numerous football games throughout the season.

“As was the previous case with recent expansion with institutions in large cities such as Houston, San Antonio and Tulsa, the Southland Conference membership greatly values the importance of the City of New Orleans,” Burnett added. “As a destination city in the Southland’s geographic footprint, New Orleans and the surrounding metropolitan area will prove to be very beneficial for the conference as we plan a great future with our newest university partner.”

Regarding other membership decisions, Burnett added that “the Southland remains active in its discussions with the universities that we have been engaged with in recent months. We expect resolution on these membership options in the near future.”

For more information about UNO Athletics, visit the website of the UNO Privateers.