The 1980 East Texas State Lions are one of the best teams in school history. Led by future Pro Wade Wilson and standouts like Blake Cooper, Cary Noiel, the team was literally two fumbled possessions from being 1980 National Champions. For years in the record books the team was named as finishing first in the program books, only to be told that they are not the champions but actually 4th place finishers. Yet, the same team that is the fourth best in the conference almost wins a national championship and is loaded with All-Americans. Make any sense?
There is a reason why. In 1980 the NCAA admitted both Texas A&M Kingsville and Texas State (then known as Southwest Texas State) to their league, but did not assign them to a complete NCAA conference, but left them with a conference full of NAIA schools. The Lone Star conference was more or less and outlaw conference. For years the question was asked, who was truly the conference champion? Now, the LSC was an NAIA conference until the end of the 1982 academic year, so in order to play for an NAIA Championship or be recognized as a Champion in ANY capacity, they must be NAIA members. Now, here are the final standings in the LSC from 1980.
- Southwest Texas, 8-3 Overall, 6-1 Conference
- Angelo State, 8-2-1 Overall, 5-1-1 Conference
- Texas A&I, 7-4-0 Overall, 5-2-0 Conference
- East Texas 8-3-1 Overall, 4-2-1 Conference
- Stephen F. Austin, 4-6-0 Overall, 4-3-0 Conference
- Sam Houston State, 3-7-0 Overall, 2-5-0 Conference
- Abilene Christian, 2-8-0 Overall, 1-6-0 Conference
- Howard Payne, 1-8-1 Overall, 0-7-0 Conference
Now, one might think that this is the way it is, but there are things to take into consideration. First off, SWT and A&I had no business being in the conference. Being in the NCAA gave them huge competitive advantages in roster size and scholarship money. Even today, the NAIA does not have now, nor back in 1980, the ability to give out the kind of scholarship monies that the NCAA does. It is really amazing that the ET and Angelo were able to line up against teams that were stacked with more talent and give them good games. SWT and A&I had more scholarship quality athletes than any school in the conference. The reason that you had the top 4 schools with winning records is because two of them had all the talent money could buy to win the conference, while the other two had just sheer talent and great coaching.
I spoke with the NAIA last summer, and this is what they told me. They said that year, the LSC was the one would crown the conference champion, but from a perspective of only NAIA schools and also past precedent, the top two NAIA schools would be the champion in their eyes. So, THIS IS HOW the NAIA, of whom ET was a member of, saw the conference play out.
T-1. East Texas, 7-3-1 Overall, 4-0-1 Conference
T-1. Angelo State, 8-2-1 Overall, 4-0-1 Conference
3.Stephen F. Austin, 4-6-0 Overall, 4-1-0 Conference
4.Sam Houston State, 3-7-0 Overall, 2-3-0 Conference
5. Abilene Christian, 2-8-0 Overall, 1-4-0 Conference
6. Howard Payne, 1-8-1 Overall, 0-5-0 Conference
So, SWT and A&I are not counted because they are not NAIA members, nor do the wins or losses of NCAA members schools count for NAIA standings, but do count for overall record and also strength of schedule I would assume. So, this is what we can infer from all of this.
- ET and ASU both had identical records against NAIA schools and tied when they were head to head, so they finished as co-first place finishers.
- The NAIA took the top two teams in the league, of which ET and NAIA were.
- The Lions were ranked 8th in the NAIA polls at then end of the season and finished 4th at the end of the year.
- The LSC was still under the ownership of the NAIA, though the NAIA granted them permission to crown their own champion, it was two sets of rules at stake, of those that played under the NAIA banner, ET and ASU Co-Champions and under NAIA rules would be crowned as such.
- The LSC refuses to consider the following logic simply because they say “we have the right to crown whomever we choose to crown.” (No Logic There)
- The NAIA does say that a possible “Division Title” can be given to ET and ASU, because of the conference split.
- The NAIA does allow for rings due to playoff qualification and also playoff victories.
That, Lion fans, is the truth in the tangled mess known as the 1980 Football season, but regardless of what the LSC says now, under rules and the results of what was played on the field, you men are Champions, and one day, it WILL BE recognized.