Southland Conference to induct three into Hall of Honor

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 27:  Mark Bavaro #89 of the New York Giants gets tackled by Leonard Smith #46 of the Buffalo Bills January 27, 1991 during Super Bowl XXV at Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The Giants won the Super Bowl 20-19. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Former Southland Conference commissioner and current Southeastern Conference leader Greg Sankey, and former standout student-athletes Wade Miley of Southeastern Louisiana and ASN Super Poll 50 honoree Leonard Smith of McNeese State, have been named inductees as the Southland’s Hall of Honor’s Class of 2016.

The induction will take place on May 24.

Sankey, Miley and Smith will become the 47th, 48th and 49th inductees into the Southland Hall of Honor since it originated in 1999.

“We are truly honored to recognize and celebrate the inductions of Greg Sankey, a veteran and distinguished leader in collegiate athletics, and two of the finest student-athletes in Southland history, Wade Miley and Leonard Smith,” Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett said. “All three are truly deserving of this tribute and it’s a thrill to induct them into the Hall of Honor.”

Sankey was named the fifth commissioner of the Southland Conference on April 16, 1996, after previously serving four years as the league’s assistant commissioner for compliance and later as associate commissioner. During his nearly seven-year tenure as commissioner, he oversaw the expansion of Southland membership with the addition of Southeastern Louisiana in 1997 and the return of Lamar University in 1998. Sankey served a duel role as commissioner of the then-named Southland Football League that expanded to eight members before being folded back under the Southland Conference banner in 2002.

The league enjoyed a strong relationship with Fox Sports Net during his time leading the league, as the Southland began an annual football and basketball broadcast package that continued for many years. He led the effort to return the Southland’s men’s basketball tournament championship game back to ESPN in 2000. Sankey also initiated the formation of the Southland Conference Hall of Honor in 1999, and as associate commissioner, he began the league’s effort in marketing and corporate sales, securing a basketball tournament sponsorship with CenturyTel.

He represented the Southland on multiple committees of the NCAA, including the Division I Management Council, the Division I Football Study Oversight Group, the Division I-AA Football Governance Committee, and was chair of the Division I Membership Subcommittee. He also served as Executive Vice President of the Collegiate Commissioners Association.

Before joining the Southland Conference staff in 1992, the Auburn, N.Y., native served as director of compliance and academic services at league member Northwestern State, and served as NSU’s golf coach for two years. He departed the Southland in late 2002 to join the Southeastern Conference staff as associate commissioner, followed by time as executive associate commissioner and chief operating officer of the league. He became the eighth SEC commissioner on June 1, 2015.

Miley, a native of Hammond, La., played three seasons with the Southeastern baseball program after being selected out of high school by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2005 MLB Draft. As a Lion lefthander, Miley went on to earn first-team all-conference honors in 2008 when he led the league with 119 strikeouts.

He was a first-round selection (43rd overall) of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2008, and quickly made his way through the club’s farm system. After making his major league debut in 2011, he broke through with a tremendous full rookie season in 2012, finishing with a 16-11 record and a close second to Washington’s Bryce Harper for the National League Rookie of the Year Award. He also earned a spot on the 2012 National League All-Star team.

After the 2014 season, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox and began the 2016 season in the starting rotation of the Seattle Mariners. He recently tossed a complete-game shutout as the Mariners beat the defending world champion Kansas City Royals, 6-0. He is only the third baseball student-athlete to be inducted into the Southland Hall of Honor, joining Texas-Arlington’s Trey Hillman (2010), former manager of the Kansas City Royals, and current Lamar coach Jim Gilligan (2011), who pitched for the Cardinals in the mid-1960s.

Smith, a native of Baton Rouge, La., joined the Cowboys program in 1980 and became one of the greatest defenders in McNeese and Southland history.  He earned first-team All-America honors in 1982 from the Associated Press and the American Football Coaches Association to go along with his first-team all-Southland awards in 1981 and 1982.  He was No. 49 in Super Poll 50, ASN’s ranking of the 50 greatest NFL championship competitors of the past 50 years.

Helping lead the Cowboys to the 1980 Southland title, Smith also played in the 1980 Independence Bowl as McNeese lost a narrow 16-14 decision to Southern Miss. During his career, he blocked 17 kicks, a Southland record that still stands today.

In 1983, he became the highest-ever NFL draft pick from the Southland, as Smith was the 17th overall selection in the first round by the St. Louis Cardinals.  That began a nine-year career with the Cardinals and Buffalo Bills, including an All-Pro selection in 1986, and as a key defender in Buffalo’s runs to Super Bowls XXV and XXVI.

In 1996, Smith was honored with induction into the McNeese Hall of Fame, and in 2013 was named to the Southland Conference’s All-Time 50th Anniversary Football Team. In 2014, he became only the second Southland student-athlete to gain induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, and in 2015 he was selected for entry into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Also in 2015, the Shreveport Times named Smith as one of the 40 greatest players in Independence Bowl history.

Above: Leonard Smith of the Buffalo Bills tackles Mark Bavaro of the New York Giants during Super Bowl XXV on Jan. 27, 1991, at Tampa Stadium. The Giants won, 20-19. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Kathy Kudravi

Kathy Kudravi is executive web producer for ASN.