The conference morphed quite a bit from their Division 1-A heyday. In the mid-1970's to very early '80's, the SLC was one of the better mid-major conferences overall. Football was the equivalent of the Sun Belt or Mid-American Conferences today, basketball and baseball were right below the power conferences and certainly would have had more teams in those tournaments with the expanded fields of today. On the women's side, it was the same thing. volleyball, basketball and softball were as competitive as just about anyone in the NCAA. But several things would transpire to change that.
One of the big ones, with unforeseen consequences, was the conference dropping from 1-A football to 1-AA (FBS to FCS using today's terms). On paper and principle, it looked like a good idea, but for a variety of reasons, it was a big drop in stature, money and prestige and the quality of the on-field product suffered. There's a reason most of the teams in the SLC in the early 1980's are now are back at the FBS level (Louisiana-Lafayette never left, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech and North Texas joined at various times). Once Arkansas State, Louisiana Tech and Lamar left after the 1986season, all sports dropped in competitiveness. The SLC replaced members with a focus on whether they fielded a football team, other sports competitiveness holding very little in the overall decision.
For a variety of reasons, UTA's stay in the Southland was too long. After it morphed into a football-centric league at the 1-AA level, the quality of rest of the sports suffered. That's becomes an issue if you are a non-football school like UTA was for most of that time. I wonder how different things would have been had the Southland stuck to its guns and said they would remain at the highest level. The MAC had help from the Big 10 and was able to get back to 1-A, but the SLC didn't and was selling the idea of going to 1-AA. The Sun Belt today likely would have been the Southland had they stayed.
Today's game would be the first Southland Conference game in UTA's history and fittingly, it was against one the SLC's longer tenured teams in Arkansas State. The then Indians, now Red Wolves, appeared on the University's schedule more than any other team, save for Lamar. Both teams played UTA a total of 22 times.
I should probably dislike Arkansas State. They beat UTA in a championship-caliber game in 1968, costing UTA, then known as Arlington State College, a third consecutive SLC title and Pecan Bowl bid, upset UTA in 1976, costing them another conference champ trophy and an Independence Bowl bid, were the only loss on UTA's last conference winning team in 1981and were part of 13-12 loss in 1985 that dropped them from the top of the SLC standings and may have suppressed attendance that ultimately was the cost the University its football program.
But the reality is they run a quality athletic program and have a grounded fan base. Unlike UTA, Arkansas State is a good example of how to move a program up to the highest level, having success at it twice. I think UTA could have been similar to stAte had they stuck with it. In the end, they are in the same spot, minus UTA actually fielding a team.
But in 1964, when they squared off against each other for the first time, they were equals, in more than one way. Both teams were floating in independent purgatory before they got together with three other schools. Both were starting what would be long-time members of the same conference. Both left that conference not out of desire, but necessity to grow their programs. Both were early powerhouses of the conference, as these two teams combined for five of the first seven championships and were runner-ups four times in that span. And in the first game, both would walk away with the same result.
On this day in UTA football history, Arlington State College plays a Southland Conference game for the first time against the Arkansas State Indians.
ASC, Arkansas State Battle to 7-7 Tie
By JOE FROST
News Staff Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas - Arlington State College managed to out-class Arkansas State, but couldn't outscore the visitors and had to settle for a 7-7 draw in their Southland Conference debut here Saturday night.
THE REBELS spent an entire evening knocking Arkansas State's undefeated Indians about like wooden cigar holders, but most of the time it amounted to naught. Only in the second quarter, when junior fullback Kenneth Bowman punched over from the 1 did the Rebels score. Al Smith added the conversion and the lead held up until after the half.
It looked as if the Rebels would score on a half dozen other occasions, but they never did. Rebel drives were called at the Arkansas State 3, 20, 18 and 13-yard lines. On two of those penetrations field goal attempts by Smith went sailing to the right.
Arkansas State had two chances. The Indians' Dick Famiglietti picked up a Rebel fumble at the Arkansas State 3 in the first quarter, raced all the way back to the Rebel 27, and was rolled out of bounds by Arlington quarterback Ed Noble.
Dan Summers attempted a field goal from the 18, and it went wild to the right.
The Rebels drove all the way from their own 9 before fumbling.
That opening kickoff drive ate up all but 2:08 of the first quarter and included six first downs.
REGROUPING TWO series later, Arlington drove 62 yards in nine plays with Bowman, the team's leading scorer last year, carrying it over. Bowman, a 185-pouinder from Crockett, picked up 123 yards on 23 attempts. In all of last season he had only 158 yards on 59 carries.
Arkansas State took the second half kickoff and stepped off 78 yard in 10 plays. Gary Everett's 34-yard pass to Tommy Clark was the big gainer, and fullback Tommy Reese ended the series from seven yards out with 9:53 remaining. Summers' conversion was true.
Arlington State has a 1-2-1 record. Arkansas State is now 3-0-1. The Rebels last treated their hometown crowd to a victory in 1962, 7-6 over Hardin-Simmons.
"I DON'T KNOW of anything I'd change," said a saddened Chena Gilstrap after the game ... "less it was the score."
"We had something like 20 chances that first drive (it was 22) and we still didn't make it. When you get past 12 chances you're on borrowed time," he added.
Smith had a great night with his barefoot punting. The senior from Dallas booted five times for a 49-yard average.
Arlington State............... 0 7 0 0-7
Arkansas State...............0 0 7 0-7
ARL. - Bowman, 1 run (Smith kick)
ARK - Reese, 7 run (Summers kick)
GAME AT A GLANCE
Arlington Ark. St.
First Downs.......................16 12
Rushing Yardage..............268 105
Passing Yardage................10 114
Passes Intercepted by........ 2 1
Fumbles Lost......................1 1