When you think of sports in the state of Texas you think of a cheating baseball team from Houston, Longhorns in Austin, and high schoolers playing under Friday Night Lights. But what you don’t think about is the athletics from a school on the state’s east coast – a university named after the “father of Texas” that has had the strangest past six months.
On November 26 Stephan F. Austin University’s mens basketball team went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and shocked the world-beating, then-undefeated #1 Duke 85-83 in overtime on a buzzer-beating layup. The Blue Devils actually paid the Lumberjacks $85,000 to come to Durham and beat them, despite being 29 point underdogs. The win was the biggest ever in the history of S.F Austin basketball.
Flash forward four months and that same ‘Jacks hoops team was riding a 15 game winning streak, 28-3 overall, and coming off a regular-season Southland conference championship. But just days before that conference tournament was set to begin the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the nation, denying SFA, the top seed in the Southland Conference, was denied the opportunity to go back to the NCAA tournament.
On the gridiron, the school’s football team went through a rollercoaster of emotions as well. On February 5th, the team landed the #1 FCS recruit in the country. Barnard Wright, who played his high school ball at the famous Carter High that was featured on ESPN 30 for 30, chose to play for the Lumberjacks over offers from Clemson, Alabama, and LSU, among others. Wright is a defensive tackle at 6’3” 325 that looked to turn SFA from a 3-9 team in 2019 to playoff contender in 2020, or so he thought.
Wright and the rest of the Lumberjacks were banned from postseason play in 2020 for having an academic progress score below the 930 threshold. APR scores were implemented in 2013 and a 930 score predicts a 50% graduation rate. S.F Austin’s baseball, basketball and football teams will not be able to participate in any postseason play next year, but the school has the option to push the penalty back to the 2021-22 school year because of the virus. Along with the three lumberjack teams, Alabama A&M, Alabama St., Coppin St., Deleware St., Grambling St., Howard, McNeese St., Prairie View A&M., and Southern all have athletic teams that are penalized as well.
It has been a roller coaster for Steven F. Austin University athletics over the past 6 months. But regardless of their major victories on the basketball court and the recruiting front, those accomplishments won’t raise any banners, and that’s the one thing that is for certain in this wild and unprecedented era for the Lumberjacks: No national champions for the SFA baseball, basketball, or football team.