UNO to announce acceptance to Southland Conference

The University of New Orleans is being granted membership to the

Southland Conference, marking another major step for an athletics

program that has struggled to stay afloat since Hurricane

Katrina.

League and school officials have scheduled an official

announcement Thursday. Former UNO basketball standout Gabe

Corchiani, now one of the program’s top boosters, says officials

have already disclosed the decision to him.

”It’s wonderful. It’s a big step for University of New Orleans

athletics because of the predicament the university has been in for

the last year and a half,” Corchiani said. ”It’s going to be a

great day for the university to go ahead and put a foot forward in

the rebuilding process, staying Division I and now getting into a

good conference.”

UNO has fielded Division I sports for decades and its history

includes appearances in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and

the College World Series.

Shortly after the storm, Corchiani was instrumental in

renovating Lakefront Arena with a new court, locker rooms and

basketball office, including a theater-style room for reviewing

video.

However, university finances as a whole after Katrina became so

tight that officials drafted an unpopular plan to leave the Sun

Belt Conference and switch to Division III, which does not offer

athletic scholarships.

After the NCAA had approved that step, the university changed

course and applied instead for Division II. The NCAA approved that

change as well, but before the transition was complete, the

university got new leadership with the hiring of President Peter

Fos and Athletic Director Derek Morel.

Fos and Morel said they believed that remaining in Division I

was in the school’s best long-term interest.

”Derek has done a wonderful job,” Corchiani said. ”So has Dr.

Fos in hiring a good, credible athletic director who is

enthusiastic enough to go ahead and say, `Hey, we don’t need the

university going to D-II. We need to keep it at D-I, where it’s

been so many years and has been successful in the past. We need to

be able to build on that.”’

Corchiani said the Southland Conference is an ideal fit because

fellow league members Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana

offer natural rivals within driving distance, which should save on

travel costs while boosting attendance.

”Playing those types of schools can build your attendance,”

said Corchiani, ”And every person in a seat is valuable to a

university trying to build a program again.”