The SCAC is in a position of strength heading in 2024

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Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Commissioner Dwayne Hanberry has witnessed a lot of movement throughout NCAA Division III since he began working for the conference as an intern in 1995. Hanberry became the SCAC’s first full-time sports information director in 1997 before being promoted to assistant commissioner in 2000. He was promoted to associate commissioner in 2005 and served six months as interim commissioner before being named the second commissioner in the conference’s history in June 2008.

Hanberry is the longest-tenured employee in SCAC history, having spent 28 years with the league office. He is nearing his 17th year as commissioner and recently signed a five-year contract extension to remain with the SCAC through the 2027-2028 season.

The SCAC first sponsored football in 1962, when the league was named the College Athletic Conference. However, changes to membership forced the conference to stop sponsoring football in 2016. 

Football will return to the conference in 2024 with core members Austin College, McMurry, Texas Lutheran, and Centenary. Lyon is joining as an affiliate member for football, and the SCAC will play a double round-robin conference format this year. Schreiner is expected to begin playing football in 2025, giving the conference the six members needed to secure an automatic qualifier (AQ) to the NCAA DIII playoffs.

Commissioner Hanberry was kind enough to sit down for a Q&A to discuss the status of the SCAC in 2024.

Q: I want to start by welcoming you back into the Non-FBS ranks in Texas. I’m interested in your overall thoughts on sponsoring football again.

Dwayne Hanberry: We’re very excited. There was a time when I wasn’t sure we’d have football in the SCAC again. 2016 was the last year we tried to make a go of football and finally decided it was in the best interest of our programs to seek affiliate opportunities. The tipping point for us bringing football back was when Centenary announced they would add football. You couple that with the NCAA’s decision to lessen the number of members needed for an automatic bid from seven to six, and suddenly, we had a pathway again. We wanted 10 core members, and it made sense to bring McMurry on board to get that number. We expect to be at six football schools in 2026 if everything goes according to our plan. Then, we start a two-year waiting period to get the AQ, so it’ll be the 2028 season before our champion earns an automatic bid.

Q: It is interesting that roles between the SCAC and the American Southwest Conference are reversed this time. Considering you won’t have an AQ until 2028, is there a chance your members are interested in forming an alliance with the ASC for football to give your schools a chance at an AQ until then?

Dwayne Hanberry: That’s a fair question, and we have thought about that. I’ve had conversations with David Flores, the Commissioner at the ASC, because they’re exploring many different options on things they need to do with football and membership. I’ve had very candid conversations with our football members. The only way we can have AQ status before 2028 is to become affiliate members with the ASC. The overall sentiment right now is that our members feel that if we’re going to have SCAC football, we need to take away the ambiguity that a transition would entail. Our group wants to reestablish the SCAC connection, and playing an SCAC schedule is more important than trying to find a temporary fix. Access to an AQ is important, but we’re committed to reestablishing SCAC football, and all of our decisions will move in that direction.

Q: On the flip side, I hear from people in the ASC who point out the ASC helped the SCAC in 2016 and made a path for your members to become affiliate members. They question why that isn’t being reciprocated in 2024.

Dwayne Hanberry: That’s a fair question. The biggest difference is that the ASC had an AQ at that time, and it made sense for our members to become affiliate members with a conference with an established AQ bid. It also made sense for the ASC, which was able to shore up its numbers. Conversely, we would be going away from our core league and under someone else’s umbrella. At the end of the day, it made sense for us to move down the path of establishing SCAC football, and we need to go ahead and rip off the band-aid.

Q: How has your relationship been with the ASC since Flores became commissioner?

Dwayne Hanberry: I’ve been on both sides of this equation. I’ve been on the side that lost members to another league, and I’ve been on the side where we’ve added members from another conference. Neither equation is great. It feels bad to do something that hurts another conference, especially since I’ve dealt with it personally. It hurts to put someone in a position where they have to work harder or figure something out because of your decisions. Amy Carlton and I always had a good relationship. I try to be as open as I can be, but there are times when you can’t be as completely transparent as you want because schools ask that we keep certain things quiet since they have to figure out their course of action and do it in a way that makes sense to them. My bosses are the presidents of our institutions. When one of my bosses tells me to keep something quiet or a president of another institution is still working on certain things and isn’t at a point where they’re comfortable sharing the information, I have to respect that. It’s a professional situation, and it’s nothing personal. I know they’re telling me as much as possible, and I try to do the same without thinking they’re not telling me anything. I feel like David and I have a good relationship. We talk as much as possible and have had several conversations about football. I respect what he’s dealing with now and know it’s not easy.

Q: Are there any conversations you can speak on regarding expansion happening?

Dwayne Hanberry: No. We’re in a really good position. We’ve had between five and 12 schools during my tenure here. I laugh at all the membership fluctuations. I have this master schedule folder on my computer, and with the click of a couple of buttons, I can create a conference schedule for anywhere between five and 12 teams. We haven’t closed the door on expansion. We would be open to having those conversations if someone makes sense to us from many different vantage points, including geography, culture, and sports sponsorship. Without naming names, I can tell you the phone still rings. People have expressed interest in the SCAC because it’s a good place to be, and people want to be a part of what we’re doing. There isn’t any inherent pressure to move with more membership, but our group isn’t against considering additional members. I would be shocked if we get above 12 core members. That’s the tipping point where you have to begin looking at separating your members by divisions, and many schools don’t want to split the AQ with that many teams. I see a pathway where adding one or two more schools would make sense, but I will tell you there won’t be any announcements in the next few days or weeks. Expansion is a standing agenda item during every President’s Council call. Knowing what we’ve been through the past few years, it would be foolish not to have expansion on our radar to ensure we remain in a position of strength and do what we need to maintain the SCAC and its viability.

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