Getting back to football is only thing that will save SWAC from disastrous offseason

The Southwestern Athletic Conference’s release trumpeting its football broadcast schedule, usually another ho-hum moment of preseason puffery, was this breath of fresh air after such an ugly offseason.

The upcoming slate includes eight games across the ESPN family of networks, along with national and regional television dates with NBC, Versus, and SportSouth. In all, 21 SWAC games are set to be televised during the 2011 football season — including a 10-game schedule on SWAC TV, the conference’s internet broadcast site.

This news gives the league, and its fans, a chance to focus on football for a change.

So far in 2011, of course, the focus has been on a series of Hindenburg-level firestorms: Last year’s Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Texas Southern dumped its coach when the NCAA opened a sweeping investigation into the program. Penalties there are still pending. Then, perennial SWAC East representative Jackson State — picked to win the division again in 2011 — fell under an NCAA postseason ban for low APR scores. The league also saw the departure of two coaches, both of them former conference-championship winners, to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, the other Division I HBCU football league.

In all, Texas Southern lost almost 15 football scholarships after posting the worst four-year Academic Progress Rate in the nation. Jackson State lost 12. Southern became the first NCAA program to be banned from the postseason in two sports — both football and men’s basketball — during the same academic year because of low APR scores.

Explaining it all away is an empty exercise, though SWAC Commissioner Duer Sharp tried to put a positive spin on things at the league’s Media Day event: “The APR issues that we have now, I think we’ve learned our lessons and will definitely take those to heart and move forward as a conference to address those issues.”

In truth, the only path the conference has to “move forward” is to start playing games. And fast. Some of them won’t mean as much, among them that Sept. 17 game on SWAC TV featuring Jackson State at Southern, but at least there’ll be something else to talk about.

THE 2011 SWAC FOOTBALL TELEVISION SCHEDULE
Sept. 3: Alabama State at Mississippi Valley State, 5 p.m. on SWAC TV
Sept. 3: Grambling vs. Alcorn State in Shreveport, Louisiana, 9:30 p.m. on ESPNU (tape delay)
Sept. 4: Prairie View A&M vs. Bethune-Cookman in Orlando, Fla., 11 a.m. on ESPN
Sept. 10: Alcorn State at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 6 p.m. on SWAC TV
Sept. 10: Jackson State vs. Tennessee State in Memphis, Tennessee, 6 p.m. on Fox SportSouth
Sept. 17: Jackson State at Southern, 6 p.m. on SWAC TV
Sept. 24: Southern vs. Florida A&M in Atlanta, Georgia, 2:30 p.m. on VERSUS
Sept. 24: Alabama A&M at Grambling, 5 p.m. on SWAC TV
Sept. 29: Texas Southern at Jackson State, 5 or 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU
Oct. 1: Alcorn State at Alabama State, 7 p.m. on SWAC TV
Oct. 8: Mississippi Valley State at Alabama A&M, 1 p.m. on SWAC TV
Oct. 13: Texas Southern at Alabama A&M, 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU
Oct. 15: Southern at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 6 p.m. on SWAC TV
Oct. 15: Prairie View A&M at Alabama State, 9:30 p.m. on ESPNU (tape delay)
Oct. 29: Jackson State vs. Prairie View A&M in Shreveport, Louisiana, 4 p.m. on SWAC TV
Oct. 29: Alabama A&M vs. Alabama State in Birmingham, Alabama, 9:30 p.m. on ESPNU (tape delay)
Nov. 5: Grambling at Jackson State, 2 p.m. on SWAC TV
Nov. 12: Texas Southern at Grambling, 8 p.m. on SWAC TV
Nov. 24: Tuskegee at Alabama State, 3 p.m. on ESPNU
Nov. 26: Southern vs. Grambling in New Orleans, 1 p.m. on NBC
Dec. 10: Farmers Insurance SWAC Championship Game in Birmingham, Alabama, Noon on ESPNU
*-All time Central

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