New Orleans to join Southland

The University of New Orleans will join the Southland Conference beginning with the 2013-14 season, sources told ESPN.

New Orleans was a member of the Sun Belt from 1991 until 2010, when it became an independent five years after the university and community were devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

The school has announced a Thursday morning news conference to officially announce its move to the Southland. On Monday, the Southland announced the University of the Incarnate Word would join the league in 2013. Abilene Christian also is considering an invitation to join the conference.

The Southland has 10 members for the 2012-13 season and the addition of New Orleans, Incarnate Word and Houston Baptist would give it 13 members in 2013-14.

"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," said former UNO basketball standout Gabe Corchiani, now one of the program's top boosters. "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.

After Katrina, 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," Corchiani said. "And every person in a seat is valuable to a university trying to build a program again."

Information from ESPN college football reporter Brett McMurphy and The Associated Press was used in this report.