Photo | ATU MARCOMM
2021 marks a decade in the Great American Conference for Arkansas Tech. The 10-year span is also how long it was since Tech was a Gulf South Conference member.
Tech made the jump for multiple reasons, according to Tech football and basketball play-by-play announcer Sam Strasner.
“The Gulf South Conference was great to Arkansas Tech, but other teams in the conference were just outperforming Tech,” Strasner said.
In football, Delta State, North Alabama, West Alabama, West Georgia, and Valdosta State ran the conference. At least one of those teams won a share of the conference title in football for every season that Tech was a part of the GSC, with the exception of two seasons.
In 1999, Tech won the Gulf South title outright. It was the conference title they had in football during their stay in the GSC.
“Not being able to contend in football was a huge problem for Tech, especially since it’s the big money-making sport,” Strasner said. Tech’s final football season in the GSC ended with a 4-7 record next to their name.
Strasner said the expense of traveling was one main reason why Tech joined the GAC. Having to play football games at West Georgia, West Florida, Valdosta State on the road caused travel costs to add up. Joining the Great American Conference made those crazy travel costs dry up. In the GAC, the furthest Tech would go was Alva, Oklahoma, a distance of about 380 miles. In the Gulf South, the furthest they would travel would be Valdosta, Georgia, 821 miles from the Arkansas Tech campus. That would also be traveling to Valdosta on a bus, not a plane.
Strasner mentioned that whatever conference Tech was in, UA-Monticello, Southern Arkansas, Harding, and Henderson State would be there too. The five schools have been competing with each other in the same conference since 1930, when the schools were members of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference.
The quintet of Arkansas universities would stay in the AIC until 1995 when they joined the Gulf South together, except for one. Harding joined the Lone Star Conference. It would stay for five years before later joining the GSC in 2000. In 2011, it once again jumped ship and all joined the Great American Conference.
“The other three Arkansas schools are great competition for Tech and they have definitely developed rivalries,” according to Strasner.
When a school leaves a conference, it takes a moment for the reality of the move to really set in. For Strasner it set in at Tech’s final event as a member of the Gulf South Conference, the 2011 GSC Baseball Tournament.
“I still think that it’s so funny that the final three teams in that tournament were three of the schools leaving the conference after that tournament,” Strasner said. The three teams were Arkansas Tech, Harding, and Southern Arkansas.