LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- There's another potential shake-up looming in college athletics -- one that isn't likely to be solved by a big influx of television money.
The Gulf South Conference -- home to some of Division II's top football programs -- could lose its six Arkansas schools, which are exploring the possibility of forming a new league with some colleges in Oklahoma currently in the Lone Star Conference. Travel costs have become an obstacle in the 14-school GSC, which stretches from Georgia to western Arkansas.
"It's tough. This is all about the economy," said Nate Salant, the league's commissioner. "People are less worried about how much winning and losing they've done if they can afford to go compete. When you suddenly have trouble affording going to compete, it changes the parameter."
College sports has been dominated by realignment talk for much of the last month. The Big Ten added Nebraska, while the Pac-10 expanded to include Utah and Colorado and nearly brought Texas aboard. In the end, Texas stayed in a Big 12 that was reduced to 10 teams -- amid assurances that big television money would soon be coming to the conference.
For those schools, travel is less of a problem. In Division II, it's a major issue.
"They're Division I, playing in monster football stadiums, which are sold out, with gigantic amounts of money," Salant said.
In its own realm, the GSC has been a success. Valdosta State (Ga.) won the national championship in football in 2007 and 2004, and Delta State (Miss.) won it in 2000. North Alabama won three straight titles from 1993-95.
Just this month, the GSC earned some national attention when Southern Arkansas pitcher Hayden Simpson was picked in the first round of the baseball draft by the Chicago Cubs.
And the league has remained viable despite several membership changes. Since beginning in 1970 with six charter members, the conference has had to constantly remake itself after losing schools to Division I and to other conferences.
In 2000, the GSC welcomed Harding and Ouachita Baptist, a pair of Arkansas private schools. That briefly pushed the league's membership to 18. Now those two schools -- along with their in-state brethren at Southern Arkansas, Arkansas Tech, Arkansas-Monticello and Henderson State -- are considering their options.
"I feel like we've all got good relationships with the Gulf South schools that are in the east," Arkansas Tech athletic director Steve Mullins said. "There's a big difference between trying to get a team to Valdosta, Georgia, than trying to get a team to Oklahoma."
East Central University of Oklahoma -- which is considering joining the Arkansas schools -- faces a similar dilemma in the Lone Star.
"We have been very happy in the Lone Star Conference," said John Hargrave, the school's president. "We think the geography in Arkansas is obviously very attractive with us. ... Colleges, especially Division II schools, have to look at costs, institution-wide."
The concerns aren't all financial, either.
"When we have to go to Georgia, that's not only expensive but it requires a lot of time for those student-athletes to be out of the classroom," said Chuck Welch, Henderson State's president.
GSC presidents are expected to meet later this week, although it's not clear when a final decision could come from the Arkansas schools. If they all leave, the league would have only eight schools left -- and only five that play football.
Ironically, the easiest way for the GSC to keep its current schools in the fold might be to expand the conference even further -- so teams in opposite divisions wouldn't have to play each other much except to determine league championships.
"We're OK when we play within the division," said David Burks, Harding's president. "The only way Gulf South can really work on a cost-effective basis is through divisional play."
The GSC is already split into divisions of eight and six for sports like basketball and baseball, but there aren't enough football teams to do that. Salant said eliminating "crossover games" between divisions is a possibility, and there are ways to schedule football that could reduce travel burdens.
That could be a big help to schools that are re-evaluating their athletic ties because of financial restrictions that aren't a problem for the nation's richer programs.
"We don't have the money to fly," Salant said. "If teams could charter from Valdosta to Arkansas, from west Georgia to Arkansas, and vice versa, this whole thing disappears. But they can't. A charter's $50,000-$60,000. That money's not there."