SoCon Hall of Fame, revisited: from bad to worse

A few days ago I wrote about the Southern Conference Hall of Fame, and how it has botched its induction process. Since then, more information has come to light.

Jeff Hartsell wrote about the SoCon Hall of Fame on Tuesday, and included some tidbits about the SoCon’s election procedures that are just infuriating. I had noted in my previous post on the subject that the league had “bent over backwards to honor players and coaches from its distant past.”

Well, it turns out that the conference’s de facto position is that players and coaches from its first 33 years of existence are actually twice as important as those from more recent decades. No, I’m not kidding.

From Hartsell’s article:

Voters are asked to pick two nominees from the pre-1954 era (when the ACC split off from the SoCon), two from 1954-now and one female.

This is simply absurd. The “pre-1954 era” is a 33-year period, while “1954-now” is 60 years (and counting). Why, then, should the conference allocate the same number of spots for both eras? The modern era should have twice as many spots, because it is twice as long a period of time as the pre-1954 era.

This ludicrous lean to the days of long ago will only get worse as the years go by, of course, because the “1954-now” period will continue to expand, while the other era will always remain the same in duration — 33 years.

Oh, but that’s not the only ridiculous move the SoCon has made with its Hall of Fame:

The plan to induct a new class just every other year will only make the perceived backlog problem even worse.

Yes, that’s right. The league is only going to vote every other year. Why? I have no idea. I couldn’t even think of a cynical reason. It’s just bizarre.

Hartsell suggested on Twitter that the league might be trying to save money by not having a banquet every year. My response to that is maybe the league could elect new members every year while holding the banquet every other year.

As a result, the next scheduled election isn’t until 2016. What does this mean for modern-era male athletes?

Let’s take 2012, the first election in the SoCon’s “elect five in three specific categories” format. The two modern-era inductees that year were longtime Furman tennis coach Paul Scarpa and Jim Burch, a basketball officiating supervisor. No male athletes from the last six decades were selected.

2013: No election

2014: Furman soccer star Clint Dempsey and Appalachian State football coach Jerry Moore were elected as the “modern era” choices.

2015: No election scheduled

2016: Here is where things get really fun. Both Stephen Curry and Armanti Edwards will be eligible in 2016. There is a good chance that one or both of them will be elected, and that all the other modern-era candidates will be shunted aside for another two years.

It is even more likely that Curry and Edwards will get the nod because neither of their schools will be in the league by 2016, which seems to have been a significant advantage for past candidates.

2017: No election scheduled

2018: By this time no officiating supervisors will have been elected for six years, so expect at least one to take up a “modern era” slot, much like Burch did in 2012. The other inductee will likely be a former Elon player or coach (again, the no-longer-in-league factor).

2019: No election scheduled

2020: Will the league still exist? Of course, if you follow sports on television, you might be under the impression the SoCon doesn’t really exist in 2014.

It also doesn’t help the league that certain schools seem to have a leg up on getting people inducted. For example, Appalachian State, which has been in the league since 1971, has five enshrinees.

Jerry Moore retired (or was forced out), and the following year was immediately waved into the Hall. Chal Port of The Citadel, with similar accomplishments as a baseball coach, is not in the Hall.

Dexter Coakley is one of four post-1960 male athletes to have gained enshrinement into the league’s Hall of Fame. He was a dynamite force on the gridiron, but is he really one of the four top SoCon male athletes of the past 50+ years?

Coakley was a truly outstanding football player, to be sure, and the recipient of many honors, but is there a particular reason why he is in the Hall of Fame and (just to name one example) Brian Ruff isn’t? From Coakley’s Hall of Fame bio page:

His name still stands among the Mountaineers’ all-time leaders in all tackling categories, twice registering at least 20 tackles in back-to-back games.

That’s great, and Coakley is second all-time in the Southern Conference in tackles, with 616. He’s behind Ruff, who had a staggering 755 tackles in his college career.

Coakley’s bio also notes that he was “the SoCon’s Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore, junior and senior.” Again, this is very impressive.

Brian Ruff was the league’s Player of the Year twice. That was before they started giving awards for both offense and defense, so Ruff had to compete with all the league’s offensive stars as well as defenders. Only four SoCon players won the PoY award multiple times; Ruff was the only defender to do so.

Ruff was also the last Southern Conference football player to have been named a Division I first-team All-American. (Not I-AA; I.)

I want to reiterate that Coakley is not undeserving of recognition. If there were six to eight football players from the “modern era” in the Hall, it would stand to reason that he might be one of them.

It’s just that right now, there are only two (Coakley and Georgia Southern’s Adrian Peterson). Where is Ruff, or Thomas Haskins, or Stanford Jennings, or Bob Schweickert?

Heck, since Schweickert went to a school that is now in the ACC (Virginia Tech), he would seem to be a natural choice under the current guidelines.

In all honesty, though, Appalachian State’s prowess in lobbying is not the biggest problem with the Hall. No, it’s the league’s favoring of a shorter period of its past at the expense of the majority of its history that is most frustrating, and which needs to change.

Jeff Hartsell suggested the following in his column, which I think makes a lot of sense:

Induct a six-person class every year: At least one woman and one candidate from the pre-1954 era, with the other four from the “modern era.”

That would work. For one thing, it would alleviate a smaller problem with the current setup, which is that while the number of women currently in the Hall of Fame is more or less appropriate (if you are into quotas, anyway), the “women’s category” would be slightly over-represented in a one-out-of-five format going forward.

One out of six is (at least for this current time in league history) a more reasonable percentage. That isn’t such a big deal, though, at least relative to the league’s other procedural shortcomings.

Obviously having elections every year is the way to go. When the National Baseball Hall of Fame got started, the powers that be made a similar mistake in not holding yearly elections.

This led to a host of problems, some of which still negatively impact Cooperstown today. Seventy-five years later, the Southern Conference should not be repeating the same mistake.

While you could argue that having four “modern era” picks for every one pre-1954 selection is reversing the current problem, the fact is that the SoCon Hall of Fame has so many pre-1954 honorees already it would take about a decade of voting to even things back out.

Incidentally, the SoCon has changed its voting procedures before:

In the fall of 2009, the conference created a special contributor category to honor administrators.

Yes, the league changed the rules so it could elect officiating supervisors…

Jeff Hartsell wrote that “the SoCon, despite its rich history, did not even have a Hall of Fame until current commish John Iamarino came on board in 2006. He and his staff got it up and running and should be commended for that.”

Well, I’m not sure I’m willing to commend the commissioner for establishing a Hall of Fame that seems to primarily exist as an auxiliary Hall for the ACC and SEC.

I’ve been following the Southern Conference for my entire life. I would like to see appropriate recognition for the coaches and athletes I have watched compete in the league. That isn’t happening right now.

(Also, here’s a tip: I don’t watch the games for the officiating, and nobody else does either.)

It may be that the league is unwilling to change its voting procedures to more accurately reflect its history. If so, then I would respectfully suggest to the administration at The Citadel that it may be best for the school to “opt out” of the SoCon Hall of Fame.

It is likely that The Citadel helps fund this entity. However, if its coaches and players are not going to be treated fairly (along with those from other schools, notably VMI), then why should The Citadel have to pay for the privilege?

SoCon Hall of Fame: yet another league failure

On Thursday, the Southern Conference announced its latest inductees into its Hall of Fame. As has been the case every year since the SoCon created its Hall of Fame, no one representing The Citadel was selected.

This is the 78th year that The Citadel has been a member of the conference. There are at least a dozen candidates associated with the school who could be honored by the league. Instead, nada, zero, zilch.

Am I biased? Yes. However, the exclusion of every Bulldog athlete or coach from the SoCon’s Hall of Fame is ridiculous.

It is also an embarrassment for the conference. Not only has The Citadel been ignored, but VMI has as well. When VMI returns to the league after the conclusion of this academic year, the SoCon will have two schools with a combined 157 years of membership and no Hall of Fame honorees.

On the other hand, Fayetteville State does have an inductee.

Yes, you read that right. Fayetteville State, despite never being a member of the Southern Conference (or Division I, for that matter), has a representative in the league’s Hall of Fame, but The Citadel and VMI do not. How is this possible?

It’s possible because among the inductees is former officiating supervisor Jim Burch, a graduate of Fayetteville State.

The SoCon won’t see fit to enshrine any alums or coaches from the two military colleges that have been a part of the league for decades. However, the league has actually honored not one, but two basketball officiating supervisors.

It’s rather incredible, really, since this is the Southern Conference we’re talking about. The league has not been known over the years for excellence in basketball officiating (and I’m being kind here).

The SoCon has bent over backwards to honor players and coaches from its distant past. Now, I respect history, probably more than a lot of people. However, this has led to a problem.

After the 2013-14 campaign, there will be ten schools in the conference, and they will have combined for 377 years of league membership. Total number of athletes from those schools the conference has inducted into its Hall of Fame: Seven.

Five of those honorees are women, and two are men (both from Furman: Frank Selvy and Clint Dempsey).

Meanwhile, the conference has honored athletes/coaches from thirteen other schools that left or will no longer be in the league after 2013-14, schools that have combined for 346 years of league membership. Total Hall of Famers: Twenty-four.

Many of those honorees competed in the league decades ago. This is why over one-fourth of the SoCon Hall of Famers were deceased when they were elected.

Robert Neyland is a legendary figure in college football. However, I don’t think he is remembered for his SoCon coaching career as much as he is as the standard-bearer for the early days of the SEC. Indeed, most of his bio on his “Hall of Fame” page on the SoCon’s website revolves around the time following his days in the Southern Conference.

It’s not just Neyland. Everett Case, Wallace Wade — these are big names, sure, but I’m not sure why the conference was so desperate to induct them so early in the proceedings. None of them were alive (Neyland and Case died in the 1960s), and there were other candidates who might have enjoyed a day in the sun. I can think of at least one coach who will now never get that opportunity.

This year, the SoCon added Eddie Cameron to the list of honored coaches associated with schools that haven’t been in the SoCon for more than six decades.

There are no male athletes from the 1970s and 1980s in the SoCon’s Hall of Fame (three women from the mid-to-late 1980s have been honored). Apparently the men who played in the conference during that era were all really lousy at sports. The period of bad masculine athletic prowess in the league lasted from 1966 to 1992.

- Number of football players honored by the league who competed after 1955: Two

- Number of baseball players honored by the league who competed after 1950: Zero

- Number of men’s basketball players honored by the league who competed after 1965: Zero

- Number of women’s track and field athletes honored by the league who competed after 1987: Four

The conference would presumably like to have a few “ambassador” types, which is what a lot of Halls of Fame are all about. However, if the SoCon doesn’t induct living people (non-track division) who actually identify with the league, and who are associated with it, that’s not going to happen.

The SoCon has a lot of issues. Just to name one, the continued failure of the conference to get a decent TV deal is an enormous problem. However, the mismanagement of its Hall of Fame is different from other league quandaries in that it is entirely a self-inflicted wound.

It may not be easy to get a television package (though it can’t be that hard, either, based on what other conferences have been able to do). However, I cannot understand how the powers-that-be at the SoCon, including commissioner John Iamarino, could so badly screw up the league’s Hall of Fame.

They have, though…and there are alums from at least one small military college who will remind SoCon administrators of that fact on a regular basis.

You can count on it.

Update, February 10 —  SoCon Hall of Fame revisited: from bad to worse

Conference realignment: an open window to the world of the CAA (with guest appearances by the SoCon, America East, and Patriot League)

A few things I’ve written about conference realignment as it relates to the SoCon over the past few months (listing the most recent first):

Conference realignment, SoCon style: finally, expansion rather than contraction

Conference realignment, SoCon style: history repeats itself 

Conference realignment, SoCon style: the football/hoops conundrum

This post was inspired by some great work recently done by Shadesof48, a blog focused on William & Mary athletics. Shadesof48 sent in a Freedom of Information Act request to W&M. That request asked for information (primarily emails) from the Tribe’s AD, associate AD, an assistant AD, and the head football coach. The description of the FOI request was as follows:

[M]aterial regarding the school’s future plans about conference affiliation. For example, any correspondences between those people I listed and officials at the Colonial Athletic Association or other conferences as they relate to membership and composition of the Colonial Athletic Association or those other conferences (the Southern Conference, Conference USA, the Atlantic 10 conference, the Big South conference, the Patriot League, or the Sun Belt Conference).

Shadesof48 received copies of 45 emails (with a few attachments) as a result of the request, and published its findings in two posts. The first post delved into emails relating to William & Mary and a possible move to the Patriot League. The second post, released last week, was a look at emails directly tied to CAA realignment discussion.

What I want to do is look at this information in relation to other moves taking place concurrently, and what else had been reported — follow a timeline of events, if you will. By combining information that was already acknowledged with what has been divulged via the CAA emails, a more complete picture of the events of the last two years can be created.

Before reading the rest of my post, I would highly recommend reading both Shadesof48 posts. As I noted earlier, that blog did an excellent job acquiring and then putting together the information, with appropriate analysis to boot. Again, links to those posts: here (William & Mary/Patriot League discussions) and here (general CAA expansion hijinks).

In the spring of 2012, things weren’t going so well for the CAA. Georgia State announced in April that it was departing the conference. In May, Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion both declared their intent to leave as well.

On the very day ODU announced it was heading to CUSA, CAA commissioner Tom Yeager called his opposite number with the SoCon, John Iamarino, to inform him that the CAA would be talking to multiple SoCon schools about making a switch. However, it appears that Yeager had already been talking to schools in other leagues.

One of those schools was Boston University, then a member of the America East conference and perhaps the CAA’s top choice as an expansion target. On June 15 of that year, however, BU made a surprise shift to the Patriot League, blindsiding Yeager and the CAA.

William & Mary director of athletics Terry Driscoll notified his school president, Taylor Reveley, of the startling news and noted that the league would “continue to explore institutions in the north.” Reveley’s response to BU’s move: “Not helpful.”

Three days later, a clearly concerned Yeager sent an email to Driscoll. For anyone who thought league commissioners don’t pay attention to message board/blog rumors, Yeager’s request for information might come as a surprise:

The blogosphere has the Patriot League recruiting W&M to be the 10th member. Supposedly a W&M Board meeting this week to consider. Any help?

That email was sent on June 18, 2012. Eight days later, Yeager sent another email to the CAA presidents/ADs in which he said:

…I would encourage you not to be too swayed by the latest internet or hallway rumor…We are spending more time calming people down and stomping out erroneous reports than responding to real situations.

Uh-huh. Do as I say, not as I do…

As Shadesof48 reveals, there was truth to the rumors about W&M/Patriot League talks. They had been going on for a while before Yeager’s email, and in fact at least some discussion had apparently taken place off-and-on for at least three years beforehand.

However, William & Mary wouldn’t become the 10th member of the Patriot League. That distinction fell to Loyola (MD), which accepted an invitation in August 2012.

Shadesof48 has a lot more information concerning W&M’s interest in the Patriot League. I’m not going to regurgitate it in this space. I would suggest, however, that Boston University’s jump was a jolt to the Tribe administration in two ways.

Not only did the CAA miss out on a school that would have been acceptable to William & Mary, BU’s move also affected W&M’s own position as a Patriot League candidate. With Loyola later joining Boston University in the fold, the Patriot League no longer had a pressing need for another all-sports member.

Now I’m going to move to the meat of the CAA/SoCon information. First, though, I want to point out that Tom Yeager had a very difficult task on his hands.

Yeager has been the only commissioner in the CAA’s entire 28-year history. It’s his league, and he is obviously devoted to it.

With specific regards to adding schools, he has had to deal with some of the same issues as the SoCon’s Iamarino. Those issues include a divide between football and non-football schools, geographic considerations, a public/private balance, and some hard-to-please personalities (we’ll get to Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz later).

It’s not an easy job. In general, though, Yeager has been good at navigating through some difficult waters.

I liked his April 2013 report/essay on “General Membership Perspectives”, which includes an excellent breakdown on basketball RPI. Yeager told his league presidents the truth after a tough year in hoops for the CAA:

I believe that we are scheduling properly to position our teams for at-large consideration. In 2012-13 we simply did not win enough, especially key games.

Yeager’s rundown of the basketball profiles of expansion candidates was good. He followed that up with an explanation of scheduling well worth reading, as it is solid, nuts-and-bolts information.

Having said all that, the CAA maneuvering about to be discussed isn’t pretty. It’s easy to second-guess after the fact, to be sure, but some of what the CAA tried to do would have been first-guessed.

The week after Yeager’s plea to William & Mary for an update, Adam Smith of the Burlington Times-News tweeted this:

Davidson, College of Charleston and App State – yes, App State – formally have been contacted by the CAA.

Davidson and the CofC weren’t surprises, but Appalachian State was. Smith would write an article the following week explaining why:

Appalachian State, if it were to join the CAA, would be expected to abandon its well-known pursuit of climbing from the Football Championship Subdivision to the top tier Football Bowl Subdivision, because the CAA competes on the FCS level.

That was never going to happen, not unless the CAA became an FBS conference. Why did the CAA think it was possible to land Appalachian State?

From a Yeager email sent to the league presidents on June 26, 2012:

Discussions at the commissioners’ meetings last week further confirms that App State is NOT on the potential expansion list of CUSA…As reported by [UNCW] Chancellor [Gary] Miller, the “dream” may take some time to evaporate, so a decision is not imminent.

The “dream”, in this case, was App’s move to the FBS. The problem with the CAA’s analysis was by that time, the powers that be at Appalachian State were committed to going the FBS route, and had a tagalong partner (Georgia Southern) in case the Sun Belt was the only landing spot.

I understand the basic idea behind approaching Appalachian State along with Davidson and College of Charleston as part of a three-school invite; App would offer geographic relief to Davidson/CofC while also satisfying the CAA’s football contingent (notably James Madison and Delaware). It’s just that by June of 2012, Appalachian State was about as realistic an option as North Carolina State.

Incidentally, in his story Adam Smith also stated that “per multiple sources”, Furman and the CAA had not been in contact with each other. That appears to be borne out by the CAA emails, though other “sources” had told ESPN’s Andy Katz that Furman was “on a lengthy list” (with Elon). That doesn’t mean Katz’s information was completely off base; it may be that the CAA’s prospective list was really, really long.

That June 26 email had other items of interest. Of Davidson, Yeager wrote:

As we agreed on the call last Monday [note: I think he is actually referring to the previous Monday, June 18], our plan is to ‘close out Charleston’ which hopefully will create a new dynamic in Davidson’s decision process.

Basically, the CAA decided to bring in CofC in order to force the issue for Davidson. This was not really a new strategy (as I’ve written before, the CAA has tried to put a serious dent in the Southern Conference at least three times since 1996). Ultimately, College of Charleston did join the CAA, the first time a SoCon school had made the direct SoCon-to-CAA switch (the CAA had been rebuffed in previous years by Davidson, Furman, Wofford, The Citadel, VMI, UNC-Greensboro, and yes, CofC).

Yeager also mentioned that “several [school] Presidents were interested in traveling to Charleston to meet with [CofC president George Benson] personally to answer any questions and move the process to conclusion.” This is one of the advantages of being located in Charleston; everyone is more than willing to take a trip to see you, even if an onsite visit isn’t really necessary.

His email on June 26 (it was an info-packed missive) also discussed football-only expansion. Albany and Stony Brook appeared more than ready to accept invites to help create a northern division for the CAA. However, there was a potential glitch.

Patriot League commissioner Carolyn Schlie Femovich had informed Yeager she was “pursuing several CAA schools for football membership”. Those schools were William & Mary, Richmond, Villanova, and New Hampshire. Said Yeager:

I have spoken directly with W&M and Villanova — and indirectly with UR — who all expressed that they are not interested. UNH however, appears very interested in considering the Patriot League…the whole northern expansion plan hangs with UNH.

Obviously, William & Mary had at least some degree of interest, based on the correspondence received by Shadesof48. Actually, a running theme of the emails is that the CAA office never had a very good grasp on what its member schools were considering, or what its expansion candidate schools were mooting as options.

For example, Davidson had evidently been approached by the Atlantic 10 early in 2012, and had been in talks with that league ever since. I’m not sure anyone affiliated with the CAA knew that. If Yeager did in fact know that, it’s not immediately apparent based on subsequent CAA machinations.

One other thing about that June 26 email: in the subject line, Yeager asserted attorney-client privilege. Of course, just asserting the privilege doesn’t mean it automatically applies. I think it’s fair to say that Shadesof48 has conclusively demonstrated it didn’t apply in this case…

On August 7, 2012, Albany and Stony Brook accepted football-only invitations from the CAA, becoming serious candidates (if they weren’t already) for full CAA membership as well. Adding the two schools for football had an additional benefit, as Rhode Island reversed course and elected to remain in the CAA for football (as opposed to moving to the NEC in that sport). That was a possibility Yeager had referenced in the June 26 email. In this case, his strategy paid off.

After a few delays, the CAA finally got a new all-sports member (not counting football) on November 30, 2012, when College of Charleston joined the league.

A major stumbling point back in October for several board members was the notion of creating a Southern division within the CAA — a conference that now stretches nearly 1,000 miles from Charleston to Boston.

“I would be shocked if the Colonial didn’t come up with a Southern division that all of the people that support the College of Charleston will be pleased with,” said College of Charleston athletic director Joe Hull.

It was the assurance of a Southern division within the CAA from the school’s administration that swayed trustee Jeff Schliz, who voted against the proposal back in October, to back the move on Friday.

“The administration, through its contacts within the Colonial Athletic Association, believes that there are a number of schools changing conferences and coming into the CAA,” Schliz said.

Alas, the CAA was unable to convince Appalachian State or Davidson to join CofC in making the move. As of August 2013, the “number of schools changing conferences and coming into the CAA” for all sports stands at one (Elon).

As I’ve said before, the CAA’s long-sought “expanded southern division” remains as elusive as the Kingdom of Prester John.

On January 24, 2013, Georgia Southern AD Tom Kleinlein spoke to a booster club in Savannah. His main purpose at the meeting was to tighten up fan support for GSU’s proposed move to FBS.

Kleinlein told the booster group that the SoCon was considering UNC-Wilmington, Richmond, and Mercer. His intent for stating this was basically to illustrate that the league and GSU were heading in different directions.

I have no idea if Kleinlein’s comments were based on fact. Mercer would eventually join the SoCon, of course, and theoretically Richmond would at least be a feasible football-only candidate. However, I’ve never seen this particular combination of schools mentioned by any other school official, or even from “internet sources”.

The inclusion of UNC-Wilmington was a bit curious because by early 2013, that school had become one of the primary CAA flag-wavers. UNCW owned a special kind of flag, though, one that waved even when there was no wind in the area.

UNCW chancellor Gary Miller became Yeager’s point man among the school presidents. From an email sent by Miller on February 20, 2013:

As the likelihood of the ‘Catholic 7’ from the Big East Conference increases so does the opportunity for the CAA to secure exciting new members. Our previous discussions about membership…demonstrated strong support among our membership for the addition of George Washington University, the University of Richmond and Davidson…I believe it is the feeling of most of us that we would consider reentry for VCU given the right circumstances. Davidson appears to be several years away from a serious consideration of conference realignment. It appears that GW, UR, and VCU will be ‘in play’ to some extent or another in the coming weeks requiring us to give Tom [Yeager] some clear authority to move forward on out behalf. To that end, I am asking you to consider approving the following instructions for [Yeager] in priority order.

I highlighted the part about Davidson being “several years away from serious consideration of conference realignment” because, well, sure. As for Miller’s further comments, he wanted approval for Yeager to approach George Washington with an invite in hand, and also asked if any of the current CAA presidents had a personal relationship with GW’s president. He suggested GW had serious interest in the CAA based on “recent informal discussions” and thought that going after GW first would give the league “better position in reentry discussions” with Richmond and/or Virginia Commonwealth.

Miller also mentioned that Yeager’s information suggested Richmond was “not really in the mix” for a Catholic 7 [now known as the "new" Big East] invite and thus would be “ultimately receptive” to a bid from the CAA.

If Appalachian State getting a CUSA invite was considered a “dream” by Yeager/Miller, what on earth would this proposed George Washington/Richmond/VCU move back to the CAA be? A delusion?

According to Shadesof48, though, at least six CAA members (William & Mary, College of Charleston, Hofstra, Delaware, James Madison, and Northeastern) responded back in support of Miller’s proposal.

Exactly why Miller and/or Yeager thought any of UR/VCU/GW might want to leave the Atlantic 10 to join the CAA is beyond me. The A-10 is the superior hoops league (regardless of recent defections), routinely getting multiple bids to the NCAAs every year, and has a better TV contract. It’s a hoops-centric league for hoops-centric schools.

I can’t imagine how badly the school fan bases (and key boosters) would revolt if Richmond and VCU moved back to the CAA. As for George Washington, maybe its administration had some interest — but on the other hand, GW president Steven Knapp was the chairman of the Atlantic 10 membership expansion committee. I have my doubts the school gave serious consideration to making a switch.

Any hopes the CAA had of pulling off this grandstand play were decisively dashed on March 24, 2013, when George Mason announced it was moving to the Atlantic 10.

The next two weeks proved to be trying ones for Yeager. He had to put together another expansion plan, and he didn’t have a lot of time to do it.

Sometime prior to April 4, 2013, the CAA held a conference call among its members; I am not sure if this call included the schools presidents or just the ADs. During the call, the CAA identified five schools as expansion candidates: Albany, Davidson, Elon, UNC-Greensboro, and Stony Brook. Two other schools, Fairfield and Hampton, initiated discussions with the league indicating an interest in joining.

From an April 4 email from Yeager to the league presidents and ADs:

In the past week, direct conversations have occurred with Davidson, Elon, Fairfield and Stony Brook. Albany is next in the line and will be contacted…Most of the individuals involved will be in Atlanta for the Final Four this weekend, and several follow up conversations have been scheduled to occur over the weekend.

…it is our hope to schedule a conference call for the Presidents for Wednesday, April 10 to discuss and authorize the next steps in the process.

…I have also spent a considerable amount of time answering rumors surrounding whether several current CAA members are also exploring other conference options…I am confident that there is no substance to the rumors which are being created and repeated by speculation outside the institution.

…In the last 10 days, our membership strategy has taken a completely different direction. I believe that we are on target, and while changes for the 2013-14 calendar year are preferable, every day that passes makes that goal more problematic.

It looks like Fairfield basically cold calling the CAA worked, as that school immediately jumped into the expansion derby. UNC-Greensboro appears to have been dropped as a serious candidate, with Hampton also not making the cut.

That conference call scheduled for April 10 didn’t happen, though. I’m sure John Iamarino’s next conversation with Tom Yeager will include a discussion of an April 9 email from Yeager to the CAA honchos that included the following:

Over the weekend, several of  us had conversations with individuals in Atlanta regarding expansion possibilities. Of particular interest is that the Southern Conference (Davidson & Elon) is conducting a meeting tomorrow which may shed additional light on possible scenarios of interest to the CAA. I would like to postpone tomorrow’s call until later in the week when we have had the opportunity to develop additional information stemming from the SoCon meeting.

It looks like Yeager had someone giving him inside information from the SoCon meeting.

The meeting itself received mixed reviews from the participants, though in retrospect it’s hard to take anything Davidson AD Jim Murphy said about it at face value.

On April 11, Miller of UNCW sent a letter to his fellow CAA presidents:

Tom [Yeager] and/or I have visited with the presidents of Elon, Stony Brook and Davidson…The Presidents of Elon and Davidson have discussed CAA membership with their board executive committees…Based on Tom’s report and analysis…I seek your approval to move forward with membership offers to Davidson, Elon and Stony Brook with the understanding that, as in the past, your final approval will be required for each membership agreement…if further discussion is needed, we will be happy to set up a conference call.

While I cannot guarantee we will succeed in securing all three of these institutions as CAA members, given our preliminary conversations and the dynamics of the Southern and America East Conferences, I believe this is the time to move forward.

In an attachment to the email, Yeager noted that “the best expansion outcome would be to expand to 12 teams” (which would mean adding three schools) and that “14 members could be considered by adding Fairfield and Albany to Davidson, Elon and Stony Brook”.

One school president wasn’t willing to go along with the proposed expansion. No, Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz had other ideas, and he expressed them later that same afternoon:

Hofstra University is strongly opposed to the substance and process of the recommendation. As to the process, how would a President vote in favor of extending an offer of membership and later ‘finally’ decide otherwise? At the very least, I believe that collegiality requires that we discuss this dramatic change in our membership via a conference call.

As to substance, the proposal would risk (if Davidson doesn’t accept) substituting two schools which add little to our basketball aspirations to replace George Mason. In addition, as I have said numerous times, adding a school further from [New York City] than Hofstra, but in the same Long Island media and recruitment territory does not make sense to us, especially in light of the fact [that] they are already associated with CAA football.

Rabinowitz has drawn some criticism for these comments following the publication of the emails by Shadesof48. To a certain degree, I can understand his point of view. He was surely correct that the process was rushed and that extending an offer, then making it official only later, was a clumsy way to go about things.

The rest of his comments are really about defending home turf, which is fine as far as it goes. However, Rabinowitz’s decision to torpedo his school’s football program in 2009 is arguably a key reason Hofstra’s status on Long Island (in terms of varsity sports) is in danger of being usurped by Stony Brook in the first place.

His stance only hurt the rest of the league, as Stony Brook would have been a very solid addition for the CAA. It is unclear if the rest of the schools were simply unwilling to cross him, giving Hofstra a de facto “veto” over Stony Brook, or whether two other schools (Northeastern and Drexel being the two most mentioned) joined Hofstra to “block” Stony Brook.

Rabinowitz did get at least one thing right, though, in not assuming Davidson was going to finally join the CAA.

After an initial report from CBSSports.com broke the news that Davidson was leaving the SoCon for the Atlantic 10, the school finally confirmed the move on May 8, 2013. The CAA’s long courtship of Davidson had ended, and there would be no marriage between the two.

On April 15, Towson AD Mike Waddell emailed his fellow ADs in the CAA:

If…Davidson is going to the Atlantic 10, then I propose that we…consider Furman for membership for the CAA.

I feel that getting to 12 total schools via adding two southern, and one northern school is imperative for balance in the league and for long term stability. Furman has strong academics, a great overall athletics department, is easy for travel via their airport and they bring the #36 TV market with them as well.

As a group of individually Elon and Furman, along with Albany would be solid additions. We need to act now and be real about the schools that we are considering as well as the institutions [that] may be considering us. We cannot afford to be left at the [altar] any more.

This is the first (and to date only) known reference to Furman made by anyone affiliated with the CAA. While I don’t think Furman would have seriously considered the CAA before (and almost certainly wouldn’t now) barring a complete SoCon implosion, it’s hard to argue with Waddell’s line of reasoning.

The reference to getting to 12 schools was not just a throwaway line, either. Three days later, William & Mary AD Terry Driscoll told his Board of Visitors that “the CAA is hoping to add three schools, to bring the total to twelve.”

Waddell wouldn’t be around for any more CAA expansion talks, though, as he left Towson on May 20.

On May 23, Albany announced that it was staying put in the America East for the immediate future. School officials were reportedly concerned with the failure of Stony Brook to get an all-sports CAA invite. Albany’s decision meant that of the top four candidates on the CAA wish list, #1, #2, and #4 were (at least temporarily) off the table. The league finally got some good news that same day, however, when Elon left the SoCon for the CAA.

Elon president Leo Lambert denied a Burlington Times-News report that his school had been opposed to VMI and East Tennessee State joining the Southern Conference, but that denial had been preceded by an unusually strong message by SoCon commissioner Iamarino. To many observers, this suggested there may have been a considerable amount of truth in the newspaper’s assertion; fairly or not, Elon has been slapped with a “does not play nice with others” reputation.

At any rate, Elon was no longer Iamarino’s problem, and vice versa. With Lambert now in the same league with Hofstra’s Rabinowitz, Tom Yeager’s cat-herding skills will be seriously tested. In one of the email attachments, Yeager referred to Elon (and Stony Brook) as “upwardly mobile”.

VMI and ETSU officially got the SoCon nod on May 30, along with Mercer. There is no evidence supporting rumors that the CAA had made a late run at the Macon school.

Not part of the CAA emails, but just to briefly mention…

The commissioner of the Patriot League essentially confirmed in May 2013 what had been previously rumored in various corners of the internet, namely that the conference is now focused on football-only members. While Villanova is probably the school most mentioned in this regard, other possibilities may include fellow CAA football schools Richmond, New Hampshire, William & Mary, and Delaware (with the latter two currently all-sports CAA members).

There have also been unconfirmed reports that the Patriot League could have interest in certain SoCon schools as football-only members. To be honest I find that a bit hard to believe.

What strikes me as a more realistic possibility is for the SoCon and Patriot League to form a scheduling alliance of sorts, particularly if the Ivy League schools were to quit playing Patriot League teams that are transitioning to scholarship football. I could see matchups like Furman-Holy Cross (an overload of purple) or Lehigh-The Citadel (the Kevin Higgins Bowl).

I’ll wrap this up (phew!) with a few notes:

– Not mentioned at all in any of the CAA correspondence: Coastal Carolina. I found this mildly surprising. It seems CCU didn’t even approach the CAA for potential membership (unlike Hampton and Fairfield).

– Perhaps the key advocate in College of Charleston’s decision to move to the CAA was its president, George Benson, who announced in early August that he would be stepping down as the school’s leader in June of 2014.

– The CAA is presumably still looking to add two members. Albany and Fairfield? Try to convince Hofstra to let Stony Brook into the league for all sports? I’m not sure there is a realistic southern school out there right now (at least, not one with a football program).

– I’m sure everyone is ready for the spring of 2014, and the “will JMU go to FBS?” daily updates. JMU was strictly in observational mode for the entirety of the CAA correspondence uncovered by Shadesof48, perhaps a sign that its administration understands how FOIA works.

– You can bet that schools and conferences around the country will be more careful in the future when discussing sensitive league information via email.

– It is possible that the SoCon is now more stable than the CAA, despite losing five schools — two of them to the CAA.

– While the SoCon is not expected to actively seek to expand, if the right situation is created I fully expect an additional move (or more) to be made. That could happen sooner rather than later.

This stuff fascinates me (as you can probably tell). Again, I can’t emphasize enough the excellent job Shadesof48 did.

Now I’m ready for football season. Actually, I’ve been ready for football season…

Conference realignment, SoCon style: finally, expansion rather than contraction

Previously in this series:

SoCon style: history repeats itself

SoCon style: some actual news and a little speculation

SoCon style: the football/hoops conundrum

SoCon style: a look at the varsity sports portfolios of candidate schools

SoCon style: it is definitely nitty-gritty time now

Links of interest (a lot of them)…

From The Post and Courier:

SoCon commish has had enough

Q-and-A with the commissioner

New members bring “stability” to SoCon

SoCon wrap, extreme makeover edition

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

Southern Conference adds three members

SoCon expects to hold steady at 10 schools

From the Burlington Times-News:

Southern Conference steps towards stability by adding three future members

From The Macon Telegraph:

Mercer heading to Southern Conference

Audio interview (three parts) with Mercer’s AD

From The Roanoke Times:

VMI accepts invitation to rejoin Southern Conference

From the Johnson City Press:

ETSU accepts invitation to Southern Conference

From the SoCon:

Audio of the teleconference announcing the additions

Not linked: a horrendous column on the conference’s football situation from the Asheville Citizen-Times. In the piece, factual errors were interspersed with snide and generally uninformed commentary.

Several columnists in the league’s geographic footprint decided to pen a “woe is the SoCon” story. The problem was that some of them had obviously not been paying attention to the league since around 1985.

Our nation’s long national nightmare is over…for a little while, anyway. The Southern Conference has added three schools while not losing any other schools in the same 24-hour period. Progress!

SoCon officials said their goal was to replace those schools without expanding its traditional Southern-states footprint.

“We’re not chasing dollars, we’re not chasing markets,” said Wofford [Director of Athletics Richard] Johnson. “We’re chasing what’s best for our student-athletes, and going back to why conferences exist, where athletes are an extra-curricular activity and we can minimize missed class time.”

[The] Citadel athletic director Larry Leckonby said the new league “is really solidified with 10 members who all want to be in the SoCon. They want to be in a geographic conference where we can bus our teams everywhere and give fans a chance to watch all the games if they choose to.

“Most leagues in today’s world have certainly gone beyond regional footprints for other reasons.”

This was a theme repeated throughout the league meetings. Unsaid but implied: the CAA is crazy to have a Boston-to-Charleston geographic footprint.

Time will tell if that is true or not (I tend to think it is), but at any rate the league can’t worry about the likes of Elon, Davidson, or College of Charleston. It has to move on without those schools and the FBS dreamers at Appalachian State and Georgia Southern. Did it get it right with Mercer, ETSU, and VMI?

Most observers seem to think adding Mercer was an excellent move for the SoCon, even if the Macon school is just re-starting its football program. Mercer will be a contender in baseball (38+ wins in each of the last five seasons) and men’s hoops (regular-season Atlantic Sun champs in 2013) as soon as it joins the conference, and has the resources to be competitive in football sooner rather than later.

It’s a good thing the school has those resources, as the Bears’ football program will begin conference play in the SoCon in 2014. Mercer is going to gradually phase in scholarships under Bobby Lamb, the former Furman coach now overseeing things in Macon. In an interview with The Greenville News, Lamb described the enthusiasm for football at Mercer:

We sold 4,000 season tickets, and to put that in perspective, the most I ever sold at Furman was 1,100. The interest we generated was so great that we went ahead and set up for a second level on [the stadium]. What we’ve got down here is pretty special.

Mercer already has a competitive football-specific website: Link

The school last fielded a football team in 1941. The schedule for the Bears that year:

Georgia
Georgia Southern
Wofford
Rollins
Presbyterian
Mississippi College
Newberry
Samford
UT-Chattanooga

There is just a hint of back-to-the-future with Mercer and the Southern Conference, even though Mercer (unlike ETSU and VMI) has not previously been a member of the league. Mercer will be the 44th different school to join the SoCon.

The geography of the Southern Conference will benefit Mercer. Its school president noted this in an op-ed in The Macon Telegraph:

This move will also reduce travel burdens for our student-athletes, whose first priority must always be their work in our classrooms and laboratories. The average distance from Mercer to the nine other Southern Conference member institutions will be approximately 40 miles less than the average distance to Atlantic Sun institutions.

The travel burdens will be reduced to an even greater degree for our student-athletes in football, who will move from competition in the Pioneer Football League to the more geographically compact Southern Conference.

One other thing: while The Citadel’s basketball team has never won the Southern Conference tournament, the hoops program does have one post-season tournament title to its credit. In 1927, The Citadel won the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) tournament. In the final, the Bulldogs defeated none other than Mercer (42-41).

That was the last time The Citadel beat Mercer on the hardwood, though the two schools have only played once since 1930. Now they will be competing on the same circuit again. Does that portend a tournament championship for the Bulldogs? (Please let the answer be yes.)

East Tennessee State won the A-Sun baseball tourney this season, and it wasn’t a fluke. That program is on the rise under head coach (and noted clutch hitter) Tony Skole, thanks in part to a new baseball facility. ETSU’s success or failure as a member of the Southern Conference may have a lot to do with another new facility, one for its soon-to-be-reborn football program.

ETSU is scheduled to start playing a full SoCon slate on the gridiron in 2016. By that time, a new football stadium will presumably be in place or well on its way to completion. If it is not, then the SoCon will probably be perceived as having made a mistake in issuing an invitation to the school.

No one wants to play football games in the Mountain States Health Alliance Athletics Center, better known as the “Mini-Dome”. Truth be told, playing basketball games in the building isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of a good time, either.

That may be why there has apparently been some discussion about ETSU moving its men’s and women’s basketball games to Freedom Hall — no, not the University of Louisville’s old arena, but a facility located in downtown Johnson City. The linked article also contains this passage:

But before basketball or football, ETSU has stated their new performing arts center comes first and the university does have its eyes on one piece of land in particular.

That doesn’t sound overly promising for the sports programs.

East Tennessee State was clearly invited back to the SoCon for the benefit of Chattanooga and Western Carolina (and perhaps Samford to a lesser extent). The addition of ETSU gives those schools a closer geographic match for the purposes of travel and/or rivalry.

There are other positives about ETSU. Just to name one of them, I wouldn’t be surprised if the decision by the league and the City of Asheville to extend their agreement for Asheville to host the conference’s basketball tournaments was partly influenced by the Buccaneers’ fan base. That contract will now run through 2017.

Let’s face it, though: when it comes to football, the school currently has no players, no coach, and no stadium. There seems to be no agreement on where a new stadium would be located or when work on its construction would begin.

East Tennessee State will also have to add up to three women’s sports for Title IX reasons (due to the resumption of football), or drop a similar number of men’s sports.

While VMI has been the most-critiqued new addition by the league, ETSU may actually be the biggest risk. I hope the school is ready to take this step.

I would prefer being sure about it.

Ah yes, VMI, a school with a football program one publication described thusly:

You could…say the VMI football program has an upside, in the sense that it really doesn’t have anywhere to go but up.

During the SoCon teleconference, Jeff Hartsell asked the question that had to be asked. What are VMI’s plans for improving football? Will it make an effort to improve football? John Iamarino’s response:

They’ve taken some internal steps, I think, with regard to how they fund the program, how they allocate resources. They are quite aware that football is very important at VMI and certainly to the Southern Conference. I’ve often said, and it’s true I believe, nobody joins a conference to be the doormat, and I know that’s the case with all of [the new members].

None of them are coming in wanting to be at the bottom of the league. Everybody is going to be competitive. We hope that being in the Southern Conference will aid recruiting efforts at VMI, and at Mercer, and at East Tennessee State. That’s what we’ve been told by their administrators and head coaches when we’ve visited those campuses, and we trust that will be the case.

When VMI left the SoCon and moved to the Big South, its recruiting suffered, which may have come as a surprise to certain officials in its administration. Obviously, VMI doesn’t recruit in the same way as some other schools. It has a more limited pool of candidates from which to draw. However, even within that group of potential recruits, the level of competition (to include conference affiliation) does matter.

Being in the SoCon will indeed help VMI. However, it will help all the schools in the league. VMI may get better recruiting classes, but its competition will be better too.

If VMI wants to truly be competitive on the gridiron, it has to be flexible. That doesn’t mean lowering standards. It means giving its coaches and students a fair chance to be successful on the field.

When it comes to football, a commitment has to be made by the folks running the show in Lexington. We will see if that happens.

VMI’s women’s sports were not discussed during the teleconference. I wish someone had asked about them, specifically whether or not VMI will be required to add another women’s sport sponsored by the SoCon.

The school’s varsity sports portfolio for women, while understandably limited (only 10% of Keydets are female), doesn’t quite match up with the league. VMI doesn’t have women’s teams in SoCon staples like basketball, softball, volleyball, cross country, tennis, or golf — but it does have water polo and swimming teams for women.

While it is fair to wonder if VMI can be competitive in football (and in its other varsity sports), it appears that the remaining league members were happy to welcome VMI back to the fold. One school that wasn’t too thrilled about VMI, however, was soon-to-depart Elon:

Sources have said Elon and [school president Leo] Lambert, specifically, have not supported East Tennessee State and VMI for potential Southern Conference inclusion.

That revelation raised some eyebrows, particularly in conjunction with John Iamarino’s rather curt (especially for him) statement on Elon’s move, in which he referred to “Elon’s negative view of the diversity” of the SoCon.

Did Elon’s leadership have a problem with public schools? What were Elon’s relations with the existing SoCon public schools? And which schools did Elon want to add to the league in the first place?

Lambert attempted some damage control, as described in a later article:

“It is absolutely the opposite of the truth [that Elon opposed VMI],” Lambert said. “The fact of the matter is we were active proponents of VMI. I love VMI.”

Lambert said the last vote Elon participated in regarding Southern Conference expansion was to authorize campus visits for East Tennessee State, Mercer and VMI.

“Elon voted for all of them. So that’s the record,” Lambert said. “It was unanimous across the conference. That’s the record.”

Asked about Elon’s collective comfort level with East Tennessee State, Mercer and VMI as prospective Southern Conference members, Lambert responded: “In the final analysis, we voted for all three. But as we were talking about all three, Elon was always really excited about VMI. I think the world of VMI. It’s an excellent school.”

I doubt many of the folks in Lexington really believe Lambert when he proclaims his “love” for VMI. To be honest, I don’t either. Elon’s president got backed into a corner just when he thought he was going to be in extended, full-on celebration mode. (The Burlington paper also ran a column stating in part that it was “reasonable to call Elon ungrateful and greedy.”)

Lambert is well aware that while VMI may not be so hot on the gridiron (to say the least), it has a few other things going for it. History, prestige, cachet. A lot of schools, especially those striving for upward mobility and status, would like to be associated with such an institution. Lambert and Elon apparently did not, which would probably puzzle some of his peers.

After all, a future U.S. president once portrayed a VMI baseball player in a popular movie. On the other hand, probably the most famous video associated with Elon baseball is one of its star athletes starting (and then running away from) a brawl.

Lambert didn’t bother to express any affection, real or imagined, for ETSU.

I don’t enjoy “piling on” Elon — after all, four other schools have left or are leaving the SoCon — but its decision to bolt is a curious one. It is making an arguably lateral move to a more expensive conference, one that has been even more unstable than its current league. I really would like to know what schools Elon would have preferred as new SoCon members. Duke, Vanderbilt, and Boston College weren’t really options.

I will say that the CAA has its fair share of public schools, too, either as football-only (like Maine and Stony Brook) or full members (such as Towson and UNC-Wilmington). Maybe the grassy fields on the campuses of those schools are greener than the lawns of the SoCon institutions.

Some other things from the concluded SoCon meetings worth mentioning:

- This flew under the radar, but the league decided that all eligible teams should compete in conference championship events, starting in 2014-15. What that means is that the baseball, women’s soccer, and volleyball tournaments will not be restricted to just the top eight teams. In baseball, for example, there will be nine schools competing in the SoCon in that season, and even the last-place team will play in the conference tournament.

- All the departing schools are eligible for league titles in 2013-14 with the exception of football for Appalachian State and Georgia Southern (because they will be over the FCS scholarship limit and ineligible for the playoffs as a result).

- A decision on whether or not to raise exit fees won’t be made until the three new members begin participating in league meetings.

- Chattanooga AD David Blackburn said that he expected the league to stay at ten schools:

I anticipate it will stay at 10 for a little while. I think we’re all comfortable staying at 10 and making sure that we develop some quality and further cohesiveness before we just go out and land grab.

Don’t close the door on future additions, though. Furman AD Gary Clark:

We’ve just talked about making sure we do what makes the most sense for the Southern Conference, and I think right now that’s making sure we do the best job of integrating the new members, but we’re always going to be keeping our eyes open and constantly planning and talking strategically.

Of course, when talking about additions you also have to consider potential subtractions. It is my opinion that of the “core group” of seven schools, the one most likely to move is Chattanooga — but not to the OVC, a scenario that has been occasionally mooted.

I could see UTC considering a move to FBS in a few years, though, and leaving for a league like the Sun Belt. It isn’t in position to do anything like that right now, but it is something to keep in mind.

As for future additions, I suspect the SoCon will not go back to the Big South for another school, and at this point I’m not sure any school in the Atlantic Sun is on the short list. That might change if certain schools decide to add scholarships for football.

The other league worth watching, of course, is the perpetually unsettled CAA. The key school right now in that league is James Madison, which appears ready to go the FBS route. JMU is a little picky, though; it’s hoping for a CUSA invite, and likely won’t join the MAC (or Sun Belt) until it has no other options.

That’s all for SoCon realignment news and analysis — for now. The wheel keeps on turning…

Conference realignment, SoCon style: some actual news (Mercer, ETSU, and VMI?) and a little speculation

Previously in this series:

SoCon style: the football/hoops conundrum

SoCon style: a look at the varsity sports portfolios for candidate schools

SoCon style: it is definitely nitty-gritty time now

Finally, there has been some “real” news on the SoCon expansion front.

John Frierson of the Chattanooga Times Free Press and Randy King of the Roanoke Times both reported on Friday that Mercer, East Tennessee State, and VMI will be receiving on-campus visits from SoCon honchos over the next few weeks. Assuming those visits go well, it is expected that the league will vote on invitations at the end of May, at the annual league spring meetings on Hilton Head Island.

Of course, all three of those schools come with question marks. One of those questions, however, appears to have already been answered.

Mercer has a lot of positives — location, an upwardly mobile men’s basketball program, very good baseball, and a new football program. That football program was going to be non-scholarship, which was the main drawback to a potential SoCon invite, though not a dealbreaker. However, the Macon Telegraph dropped a minor bombshell in its story on Mercer’s potential inclusion in the league:

Mercer’s invitation would be contingent on committing to becoming a scholarship program, most likely for the 2014 football season.

If so, that makes Mercer the most appealing contender for SoCon membership. It’s a good school, located in the geographic footprint (and in an area of league need), with improving facilities, scholarship football, and basketball and baseball programs on the rise. Check, check, check, check, check.

It has been suggested (but not confirmed) that the CAA has started to assess whether or not Mercer might be a fit in that league. According to William & Mary’s AD, the CAA is trying to add three schools. If it is true (and I am not sure it is) that the CAA has approached Mercer, it strikes me as being a little late in the game to have done so.

East Tennessee State is a pick made primarily for the benefit of the schools on the western side of the league. It’s a natural rival for Chattanooga. ETSU men’s basketball isn’t as good as it was in the days of Les Robinson/Alan LaForce, but it isn’t terrible either (RPI last five years: 111-118-89-172-135).

Now that it is restarting football, ETSU currently fields teams in every SoCon-sponsored sport except wrestling. It will have to add up to three women’s sports to become Title IX compliant in order to “offset” football, or drop a similar number of men’s sports.

However, there is still a major question to be answered, namely the stadium situation. There is no way the SoCon will sign off on the “Mini-Dome” as an acceptable stadium for football (something ETSU’s school president has essentially already acknowledged).

If Mercer’s SoCon invite is contingent on offering football scholarships, then surely ETSU’s invitation would have to come with the stipulation that the Buccaneers’ football team play in a new (and appropriate) facility, and sooner rather than later. Reports on the progress of the prospective stadium are a bit foggy right now. It is apparently second in line (in terms of major school facility additions) behind a performing fine arts center.

If ETSU wants to join the Southern Conference, a new football stadium can’t be second in line behind anything.

Then there is VMI, which when it comes to expansion has been the whipping boy on just about any SoCon (or otherwise) message board you would care to peruse, mainly because its football team has been regularly whipped on an annual basis for three decades.

VMI has two problems when it comes to league membership. The one that isn’t mentioned as often is its lack of women’s sports — or to be more precise, its lack of women’s sports sponsored by the SoCon (since VMI does offer women’s swimming and water polo). I wouldn’t be surprised if the league asks VMI to field a sport in at least one of women’s volleyball, women’s basketball, or softball.

There has to be a commitment by VMI’s administration to improve its varsity sports teams in general, but specifically its football program, which hasn’t had a winning season since 1981. Sometimes people think making such a commitment means sacrificing values or ideals. That isn’t true.

VMI simply has to figure out a way to become more flexible while maintaining its standards. For examples of how this can be done, it only has to look at several other like-minded schools in its prospective new (and former) conference, including one located on the banks of the Ashley River.

I believe VMI is an excellent fit for the SoCon if it can make that commitment to varsity athletics. It appears I’m not alone in that assessment, as two different reporters had sources tell them in recent weeks that VMI had the most support among the current league schools.

If VMI, East Tennessee State, and Mercer are all going to play scholarship football in the SoCon, that would give the league ten teams in that sport. Would there be a nine-game league schedule, or would there be divisions?

Is there a possibility of adding two football-only schools to get to twelve and have two six-team divisions? I say football-only because I have doubts the league wants to have more than twelve basketball schools. I could be wrong about that, though.

What about Davidson? Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports reported on April 14 that the Atlantic 10 was “close to adding Davidson to the league, likely in 2014-15″. Since that report, there has been a lot of official silence and a lot of unofficial chatter. The only news from the school itself came in a response to The Charlotte Observer:

A strong Southern Conference is in our best interest, but we have to consider all options best for Davidson in this volatile environment.

According to The Macon Telegraph, the Mercer/ETSU/VMI combo was SoCon commissioner John Iamarino’s recommendation as early as mid-April, but further moves were then tabled:

Word of Davidson’s possible departure surfaced, and Southern Conference athletics directors were tentative about following Iamarino’s recommendations.

Now, however, the league is comfortable moving forward with visits to Mercer, ETSU, and VMI. Is this because…

1) The league is no longer worried that Davidson is going to move to the A-10, or

2) The league has now come to the conclusion that Davidson’s decision cannot be influenced by any membership addition the SoCon makes

When it comes to moving to the A-10, Davidson’s risk/reward situation is well described by Jeff Eisenberg in this Yahoo! Sports column. Among other things, Davidson would have to makes some adjustments in its long-established policies regarding missed class time, and the school would have to spend a lot more money on its basketball program (and presumably varsity sports as a whole).

There is also another potential factor worth mentioning. It appears Richmond is more than just a sleeper candidate for the new Big East. I had thought Richmond was behind Dayton in the race for what would in effect be the twelfth bid to a league that currently has ten members (St. Louis being team 11).

Now I’m not so sure. From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Richmond, an Atlantic 10 member in basketball and most other sports since 2001, is expected to be a strong candidate if the new Big East expands from a 10-school composition to 12, growth that at some point seems likely…

…Saint Louis, also of the A-10, appears to be a potential addition to the Big East’s five Midwest schools, while Richmond would fit as an addition to the five Eastern schools.

It is a rather curious little column. The lacrosse angle also mentioned in the piece is a bit puzzling. Still, it has a “I know something I can’t print in the paper yet” feel to it, at least to me. This blurb isn’t the only suggestion that Richmond is a serious contender for a Big East spot, either.

Could the possibility Richmond won’t be in the A-10 in future seasons have an impact on Davidson’s decision? I don’t know, but I think it might.

Incidentally, in an article in the Asheville Citizen-Times that was centered around UNC-Asheville and its SoCon chances, Iamarino said that he did not have “inside information with regard to Davidson, but [he would] certainly hope that they remain in the Southern Conference.”

Davidson’s Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet in mid-May. My guess is that is when we will find out Davidson’s decision.

The other SoCon school that has been bandied about as possibly leaving is Elon, though that has mostly been internet speculation and rumor-mongering. The league connected with Elon is the CAA, with Elon often mentioned as part of an expanded southern division that would also include Furman, Wofford, possibly UNCG, and maybe even Davidson (never mind the fact that Davidson has already turned the CAA down once and apparently has a better offer anyway).

The much-discussed “expanded CAA southern division” is probably the conference realignment equivalent of the Kingdom of Prester John.

Most of these rumors are floated by fans of CAA schools who don’t understand their league isn’t exactly the most appealing conference in the land (not that the SoCon is exceptionally beguiling). Just as a reminder, there are only four current CAA schools that play both football and basketball in the league. It’s a cumbersome setup, and not a naturally stable one.

One of those four schools that does play football and hoops in the CAA, James Madison, is exploring its options for moving to the FBS. That leaves Delaware, William & Mary, Towson, and a group of schools that play basketball but not football, or are in the CAA only for football, and which are spread all over the eastern seaboard, from Charleston to Boston.

Furman (or Wofford, or The Citadel for that matter) would almost certainly have no interest in such a league, whether Elon decides to move on its own or not. I don’t really know what Elon will do; no one really knows what Elon will or won’t do.

I’ve written about its meteoric rise before, but I’m still a bit uncertain as to what Elon’s ultimate goals are as an institution, including what its optimal enrollment numbers (or overall scope of offerings) might be. I assume any decision made by the university will be based on what it wants for its varsity athletics, and with which schools it most wants to associate.

At any rate, I haven’t seen any legitimate source suggest that a move by Elon is imminent. Maybe it is.

If it were to move to the CAA, some of the same rambling internet sources say that Elon would be joined as an all-sports member by Albany. That school was just recently added to the CAA for football.

Stony Brook, which like Albany is a recent football-only CAA selection, would by some distance be a superior all-sports addition to the CAA. However, it is reportedly being blocked from full CAA membership by a northern cabal led by Hofstra. If that is really true, it is high comedy…or maybe low comedy. I can’t decide.

Again, it is hard to imagine the likes of Furman, Wofford, or The Citadel having any desire to become part of such a conference.

I just hope that in a few weeks time, most of the SoCon realignment is going to be over, one way or another. Something tells me it won’t be, though.

Conference realignment, SoCon style: the football/hoops conundrum

Previously:

It is definitely nitty-gritty time now for the SoCon

A look at the varsity sports portfolios of SoCon candidate schools

After Georgia Southern and Appalachian State announced they would be leaving the Southern Conference for the Sun Belt last week, SoCon commissioner John Iamarino held a media teleconference. All in all, he did a good job, sounding reasonably confident about his league’s future. Among other things, he had this to say:

If we assume we’re adding three schools to replace the three we are losing, you don’t get that opportunity often. We could strategically look at what can help us where we need help, and I’ve said I’d like us to get better in basketball.

But we also have to look at football. We are losing two outstanding programs, and football matters in this league and in this part of the country.

This came on the heels of an interview in the Chattanooga Times Free Press in which Iamarino stated:

No matter how much success we’ve had in football, and we’ve had a lot of it, FCS football doesn’t pay off on a national level the way winning games in the NCAA tournament does for you.

Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more evident that the one common component of the mid-majors who’ve had some of the greatest success in basketball — Gonzaga, Butler, Davidson — is that they don’t play scholarship football. It’s difficult to find a FCS program that’s also successful in basketball.

He isn’t wrong. Part of the reason for that is schools that spend the most money on their men’s basketball programs tend to be the most successful, and schools that field scholarship football teams at the FCS level generally don’t have the resources to commit to both sports (in some cases, they have the resources but not the focus).

Only one school with a full-scholarship FCS program is ranked in the Top 60 in men’s basketball expenditures. Villanova is 31st.

Note: all references to expenses are per the 2011-12 school year, as reported to the U.S. Department of Education.

It is not an accident that four of the eight schools that advanced to the NCAA regional finals in men’s basketball this season also rank in the top 8 in terms of money spent on hoops. Duke ranked first, with almost $16 million in expenses, followed by Louisville. Syracuse was fourth, and Marquette eighth. Kentucky was third; the Wildcats missed the NCAAs this season, but won the national title the previous year.

Another regional finalist, Florida, wasn’t far out of the top 8 (thirteenth). The exception, in a sense, was Wichita State (68th), but basketball is clearly a focal point for the school, as it does not field a football team.

A majority of SoCon schools don’t put that type of emphasis on men’s basketball. Southern Conference institutions averaged about $1.44 million in men’s hoops expenditures (that includes the three departing schools), while spending a total on average of $14,117,677. That means only 10.2% of expenses went towards men’s basketball.

Iamarino mentioned Gonzaga, Butler, and Davidson. Men’s basketball accounted for 28.6% of Gonzaga’s expenses and 26.6% of Butler’s. For Davidson, that number was a more modest 16.3% — but that percentage is the highest in the SoCon.

Davidson may not spend the most money on hoops in the league (in 2011-12 Samford did), but clearly it puts more emphasis on the sport than any other school in the league. In smaller leagues, that may matter almost as much as the actual gross expenses. It certainly goes a long way to explaining Davidson’s success in basketball within the conference itself.

In contrast, men’s basketball expenses for South Carolina ranked 20th nationally ($7.3 million), but only made up 8.39% of its total expenses. The Gamecocks are still searching for their first NCAA tournament victory since 1973.

Before the Southern Conference adds schools, the powers that be are probably going to have to decide whether to begin a transition to a hoops-first league, or continue as a conference that historically values football over basketball. While Davidson is clearly a “basketball school”, as is UNC-Greensboro (since it has no football program), most of the current membership savors fall Saturdays above all else. This is certainly true for The Citadel and Furman, the two schools with the longest continuous membership in the league.

The conference’s dilemma may perhaps be best demonstrated by comparing Furman and Davidson. They are fairly similar private schools, though Furman is larger and has a much bigger budget for varsity athletics.  Furman offers (or will offer) 20 varsity sports. Davidson offers 21 varsity sports. Furman plays scholarship football and treasures it; Davidson fields a team, but doesn’t offer schollies in the sport.

– Furman total athletic expenses: $20,531,292. Davidson total athletic expenses: $10,603,460.
– Furman men’s basketball expenses: $1,679,288. Davidson men’s basketball expenses: $1,727,330.

Davidson spends more money on men’s basketball despite Furman spending twice as much money on its total sports portfolio.

The major difference is football, of course. Furman’s athletic expenses in football for 2011-12 were $5,414,705. Davidson spent only $790,295 on football.

Football may be part of the reason why 45% of Furman’s expenses are for athletic aid (scholarships), while Davidson, with comparable tuition costs, spent 28% of its total expenses on athletic aid.

I put together a spreadsheet that lists various athletic expenses for a cross-section of Division I schools. Most of these schools are not candidates to join the Southern Conference, but I wanted to show (and also get an idea myself) of how schools in general spend money, at least at the non-BCS level.

There are 75 schools listed on the spreadsheet. All are in non-BCS leagues and most of them are east of the Mississippi. I included every SoCon school, and a majority of schools from the Big South, Atlantic Sun, CAA, Patriot League, and Atlantic 10. I also noted the current league affiliation for each school (through the 2012-13 school year).

The spreadsheet can be accessed at the following link:

2012 expenses, varsity athletics — selected schools

A few (okay, more than a few) caveats: I’m not an accountant, but I do know that some of these numbers could be a little…tricky. Different schools may have different ways of counting expenses, etc. Exact comparisons can be dicey, especially when you take a look at the numbers of, say, the Ivy League institutions.

Also, I try to avoid referring to budgets rather than expenses, because there is a difference.

I compiled five expense categories: total expenses, football expenses, men’s basketball expenses, athletic aid, and coaching salaries. It wasn’t hard to do, just a touch monotonous.

Observations about various schools that are in the SoCon, that are candidates for the SoCon, and a few that aren’t:

- Richmond spent $5.56 million on football, more than any Southern Conference school, and more than any FCS school on the list except James Madison ($6.6 million), Delaware ($5.6 million), and Liberty ($8.3 million). Old Dominion also spent more than Richmond, but ODU is transitioning to FBS. Richmond also spent $3.9 million on basketball.

- William & Mary spent $4.5 million on football, fitting comfortably in the middle of a group that includes Furman, Samford, Elon, and The Citadel.

- Athletic aid is a significant part of expenses for all schools, but especially private schools. Of those schools I surveyed, fifteen of the sixteen that had the largest percentage of athletic expenses allocated to athletic aid were private. The one exception: The Citadel.

Of The Citadel’s total expenses, 40.4% were for athletic aid. It is possible that is the highest percentage for a public school in all of Division I.

- Schools that had 20% or more of their expenses go for coaches’ salaries included Davidson, Georgia Southern, Western Carolina, VMI, and North Florida. Among the schools below 12% in that category: Furman, Wofford, Presbyterian, James Madison, and Tennessee Tech.

- Not referenced in the spreadsheet but of interest: UNC-Wilmington has formed a committee to review its varsity sports programs, after its chancellor said the department had been neglected for a decade.

- Unless you consider Belmont and JMU serious candidates, UNCW is the only school regularly or even semi-regularly mentioned as a possible addition to the Southern Conference that spent as much money or more on men’s basketball as did Samford, Davidson, or Furman — despite the fact that several candidate schools (Mercer, Kennesaw State, and East Tennessee State, just to name three) didn’t have football programs in 2011-12.

Of course, Florida Gulf Coast’s spending on men’s hoops would have put it in the bottom half of the SoCon, and that school seems to have done all right. It should also be pointed out that Mercer had a fine team this past season and finished ahead of FGCU in the Atlantic Sun standings. I think the real conclusion to draw is that the Mercers and the ETSUs of the world are going to have to seriously ramp up their fundraising as they add football, especially if they move to a new conference, and that additional money will be spent on other sports besides football.

- When it comes to total expenses, James Madison and Liberty probably wouldn’t have many issues in moving to FBS, as both schools compare favorably to most Sun Belt and MAC schools. Appalachian State is a little behind them, but not totally out of line (though I wonder about travel expenditures). Georgia Southern has a lot of work to do. A lot.

I wrote about GSU when if first considered making the FBS jump, back in 2009 (when it released its initial “Football Reclassification Analysis“). I thought it would be a mistake then, and I’m still a bit dubious today, even with (or perhaps because of) the changing landscape of college athletics.

- Davidson has been mentioned as a candidate for the Atlantic 10. One problem the school would have is that its current men’s hoops budget would be the lowest among all A-10 schools, and there would be a major increase in travel expenses (not unlike last year’s proposed move to the CAA that Davidson declined to make). One A-10 member, Rhode Island, spent $4.6 million on men’s basketball in 2011-12, almost $3 million more than Davidson. Of course, the Rams have a cumulative record over the last two seasons of 15-45.

There were a few expense-related items not contained in the spreadsheet I wanted to briefly mention, for no particular reason other than I thought they were interesting, if not surprising.

- When Duke lost to Lehigh in the 2012 NCAA tournament, it was a case of a men’s basketball team with $15.9 million in expenses losing to a team with $1.4 million in expenses. That may be some kind of record.

- While Texas has the largest varsity athletics budget ($129 million, including over $20 million in coaching salaries alone), it appears that Alabama spent the most on football in 2011-12: $36.9 million. Right behind Alabama in football expenses was Ohio State, with $34 million. Alabama has won three of the last four BCS titles; Ohio State was undefeated last season. I guess they got their money’s worth.

- SEC schools as a group spent $262 million on football in 2011-12. That did not include the expenses for Texas A&M or Missouri.

- Kentucky ranked fifteenth nationally in total athletic expenses. That was only the eighth-highest total for an SEC school.

There is another aspect to the football/basketball emphasis question that has to be considered. It was most recently mentioned by John Iamarino after the Barry Alvarez “we’re not playing FCS schools anymore” brouhaha in February. While being interviewed about that, Iamarino said:

The only reason to have 63 scholarships is to be eligible to play FBS teams and count toward their bowl eligibility. If those games go away, the entire subdivision would have to look at if 63 is the right number. Could we save expenses by reducing the number of scholarships? It would seem to me that’s one thing that would have to be looked at.

This may be the elephant in the room.

First, I believe Iamarino was mistaken when he said that “the only reason” to have 63 scholarships is to count to bowl eligibility for FBS opponents, but that’s not really the issue here. Saving money is the issue.

If the Southern Conference wants to become a hoops-centric league while maintaining viable scholarship football, it may be that the league will push for the division as a whole to lower scholarship limits. My guess is that the new limit would be around 50, a significant reduction but still distinguishable from the Division II maximum of 36.

The money saved from reducing scholarships and related expenses could be used to improve men’s and women’s basketball, or perhaps it could be spread around to enhance athletic programs across the board. However, I suspect the league wouldn’t make the move unless the entire division did the same. I am more than a little unsure about that, though.

There are two main problems with reducing scholarships. One is the risk of devaluing the product. At a certain point, customers (and donors) will conclude that the quality of what is being offered is not worth their time or their money.

The more immediate concern is the reduction in opportunities for potential students. One would hope that the scholarships not used in football would at least be used to fund scholarships in other varsity sports, but there is no guarantee that would happen.

I don’t know if this subject will come up when league officials and school administrators meet on April 10, but I would be mildly surprised if it doesn’t. It could be a factor in how the league approaches adding new schools, even if the potential reduction wouldn’t come to fruition for several years down the road.

In a few weeks’ time, league observers should have a very good idea of the SoCon’s strategy moving forward, both in terms of membership additions and any philosophical change in its outlook on football and basketball.

Or maybe we won’t have any idea at all…

Conference realignment, SoCon style: it is definitely nitty-gritty time now

On Wednesday, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are expected to announce that they have each accepted an invitation to join the Sun Belt Conference. Both schools have been desperately trying to wangle an invite from an FBS league; it looks like it is finally going to happen.

I wrote about this possibility a few weeks ago. Now that it has come to pass, I want to revisit what it means for the Southern Conference and what schools are candidates to join the SoCon as replacements — and also what schools, if any, are candidates to leave the league.

Conference realignment analysis is complicated, to say the least. A move on one side of the country can cause repercussions on the other. No one really has a handle on the hopes and dreams of every single school out there. The difficulties in trying to see what leagues and schools will do can best be encapsulated by this quote from an AD at a Missouri Valley Conference school:

We’re just sitting here wondering if Creighton goes [to the Big East], which of the 26 schools in our footprint that make some sense should we be pursuing.

That’s right. To replace Creighton, there are more than two dozen reasonable candidates, and whichever one is chosen will set off a chain reaction all over the nation — but each different school may set off a different chain reaction. It makes long-range predictions more or less futile (as does the entire process of musical chairs in general).

Despite that, I’ll muddle through this post anyway…

With Appalachian State and Georgia Southern leaving, the SoCon will look like this:

The Citadel
Furman
Wofford
Elon
Western Carolina
Chattanooga
Samford
Davidson*
UNC-Greensboro*

* no scholarship football program

First, let’s discuss the current league schools rumored to be candidates to leave for another conference. That would be all of them.

Seriously, every school in the league has been the focus of various rumors, some with solid sourcing, some just made up. The internet is a wild and crazy place.

The most realistic contender to jump may be Davidson, which has a good hoops program with no scholarship football. If Davidson were a person, however, he would be a very cautious accountant who happens to love basketball (and not much else). This is a school that isn’t changing leagues unless it knows it’s the right decision. It’s not going to jump into a lake like the College of Charleston did and find out the level of the water has dropped eighteen feet overnight.

Elon is the league wild card, as I’ve noted before. At this point I would be surprised if it decided to move to the CAA, but who knows. Chattanooga has (somewhat curiously) been mentioned as a potential Sun Belt candidate, which I think even most of its fan base finds puzzling.

That is what the SoCon has right now. What is going on in the rest of the land that may impact the league? A brief review follows.

- Big East (newly minted version)

The new league formerly known as the Catholic 7 is adding three schools. Butler and Xavier are joining from the A-10, and Creighton is moving from the Missouri Valley. For at least one year, the number of league schools will stay at 10. It is widely believed that the new Big East will add two more schools in time for the 2014-15 season, and that both additions are likely to come from the A-10. One will probably be St. Louis, and the other will come from a group that includes Dayton, Richmond, and VCU, with the Flyers being a slight favorite.

The MVC will replace Creighton, but that won’t affect the SoCon. The A-10, however, has already moved forward, will undoubtedly continue to do so, and those decisions will have a trickle-down effect that will be watched by SoCon observers.

- Atlantic 10 (which actually had 16 schools this past season)

The A-10 was already losing two schools, Charlotte (which is starting a football program and moving to CUSA) and Temple.

The Owls are moving to the “old” Big East for all sports, and to avoid confusion I’m going to call that conference the Metro, which is surely a better league name than the “America 12″.

With Xavier and Butler gone (Butler having been in the league for about an hour), the A-10 decided 12 schools weren’t enough and added George Mason on Monday. It is quite possible the A-10 will add another school in the near future. Davidson has been mentioned as a candidate for this spot, but there is a catch, as there are reports that Davidson would like a fellow southern school to go with it for travel reasons. The school most often named as pairing up with Davidson is the College of Charleston.

However, Davidson is not the leading contender to be the next A-10 pickup, according to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. That would be Siena. Another school reportedly in the mix is Iona.

My fearless (and meaningless) prognostication: Siena joins the A-10, and Davidson becomes a more serious candidate when the A-10 loses St. Louis and one of the Dayton/Richmond/VCU trio next year.

- Metro

Tulsa is expected to join this league any week now, leaving CUSA. This would lead to Western Kentucky leaving the Sun Belt and taking Tulsa’s place. Massachusetts may eventually wind up in this conference (though that is far from certain), which would presumably open up another spot in the A-10 in hoops (UMass currently competes in the MAC in football).

- Sun Belt

League commissioner Karl Benson wants a conference championship game in football, and he is apparently going to get it. Georgia Southern and Appalachian State will become football members 9 and 10, so the conference needs two more schools to stage a title matchup. According to Dennis Dodd at CBS Sports, New Mexico State and Idaho are going to be added as football-only members.

Idaho has to get permission from its State Board of Education to make the move, which is probably a formality. Not everyone thinks adding New Mexico State and Idaho to the Sun Belt (even for just football) is a good idea.

However, if WKU leaves as expected, the Sun Belt would actually need one more football-playing school to get to 12, and would have to look further into the FCS ranks to find it. From the SoCon’s perspective, the most interesting candidate for that spot (other than longshot Chattanooga) is James Madison of the CAA, which has been left behind in that league by all of its fellow Virginia schools except William & Mary. Losing JMU would be a very tough blow for the CAA. Liberty is also a Sun Belt hopeful, as are a couple of Southland Conference schools (Lamar and Sam Houston State) and Jacksonville State.

- CAA

Before delving into the CAA situation, I wanted to mention the press release issued by its commissioner after George Mason decided to join the A-10:

As a result of the George Mason University Board’s decision to withdraw from CAA membership…and in accordance with conference bylaws:

-George Mason’s teams in seven spring sports…will become ineligible for CAA spring 2013 championships.

-George Mason will forfeit its projected 2013 conference distribution of approximately $330,000 and future distributions (through 2017 totaling an additional $1.32 million). George Mason will also pay a minimum liquidated damages fee of at least $1,000,000. Total forfeited funds will be no less than $2.65 million…

…We are disappointed by George Mason’s decision to withdraw from the CAA after 30 years as a charter member.  We wish them well as they strive to achieve the same level of competitive success in a new conference. The CAA’s Council of Presidents will continue to aggressively pursue institutions committed to providing the finest academic and athletic opportunities for our student-athletes.

To me, that comes across as incredibly petty, especially considering GMU was (as stated) a charter member of the conference. As was the case for other schools that recently left the CAA, the athletes were punished for their (obviously huge) part in the crime of leaving the league. Imagine being a senior baseball or softball player and finding out halfway through the season that you wouldn’t be competing for the league title.

Here is the current CAA lineup (at least, as of this second):

Hofstra*
Northeastern*
Drexel*
Delaware
Towson
James Madison
William & Mary
UNC-Wilmington*
College of Charleston*
Richmond#
Rhode Island#
Stony Brook#
Albany#
Maine#
New Hampshire#
Villanova#

* no scholarship football program
# football-only member

Eleven schools for football, but only four of them are full-time members. Nine schools for basketball.

This league is a mess. In my opinion, it’s even more of a mess than the SoCon. It resembles two or three conferences unwillingly jammed into one. In addition, I think at least half of the schools in the basketball version of the league would gladly jump to the A-10 at a moment’s notice, given the opportunity. Heck, some might even consider the SoCon.

Would UNCW be able to resist an offer from the SoCon? It has “reaffirmed [its] commitment” to the CAA, but some think it needs to consider all of its options. Is the College of Charleston feeling buyer’s remorse? Supposedly not, though one suspects that any CofC return to the SoCon could only happen if the SoCon leadership were allowed to throw sharp objects at CofC AD Joe Hull.

Then there is William & Mary, which is going to be really out in the cold if JMU leaves. It would be hard for William & Mary or UNCW, though, to give up the significant amount of money currently on the table for the remaining CAA members.

I’ve written a couple of times about the possibilities for SoCon additions. A few things have changed since the last time I posted about this subject. My thoughts as of right now on a few of the schools in question, plus some off-the-wall ideas:

- Mercer is probably a lock, with the only issue being that the school has not yet committed to scholarship football. As I’ve said before, though, Mercer’s new facilities are not those of a non-scholarship program, or at least not those of one planning to stay non-scholarship. At any rate, Mercer can fill the spot left by the College of Charleston for the immediate future, with a hoops program at least as good and a fine baseball team as well.

- VMI, from a historical perspective, should be in the Southern Conference. Instinctively, VMI should be in the SoCon. However, VMI has issues, and I am not as confident in its chances of rejoining the league as I would have been a couple of months ago. A perceived lack of institutional commitment to varsity athletics may doom the hopes of those hoping to see the Keydets back in the SoCon. I’m not counting VMI out, though.

- William & Mary is possibly more of a sleeper candidate than it was before, thanks to the CAA’s crumbling edifice. I’m still not quite buying the Tribe to the SoCon, but I could be persuaded to rent.

- Richmond would be a football-only pick, and while I’m not crazy about a football-only SoCon member, the idea of grabbing UR for football in order to further attract William & Mary to join in all sports may have merit.

- If the SoCon wanted to be really aggressive and try to fully dismantle the CAA before the CAA tried to destroy the SoCon, it might consider approaching Delaware as a football-only member.

- If James Madison doesn’t wind up in the Sun Belt (or the MAC), the SoCon ought to seriously consider approaching the folks in Harrisburg, too. They might be willing to listen.

- Kennesaw State is starting a football program, and just hired its first coach. The Owls’ first season on the gridiron will be 2015. There has been marginally more chatter about KSU to the SoCon in recent weeks, although I am still a touch dubious about that. If Kennesaw State did join the league, it would help the SoCon maintain its quota of triple option teams, as new coach Brian Bohannon has worked for Paul Johnson at both Navy and Georgia Tech over the past 17 years, coaching quarterbacks and B-backs.

- East Tennessee State is also likely to start (or rather, re-start) its football program in 2015. ETSU may have to make a decision about what league it wants to join, if it has options (the OVC possibly being one of them). It won’t be in any league without a new football facility, though. (Nobody is going to play football at the Mini-Dome.)

It’s possible that ETSU may wind up in the SoCon at the expense of VMI. I wouldn’t be shocked if neither got in, though.

- Coastal Carolina, if anything, is less likely to wind up in the SoCon than before — and it wasn’t going to get in then, either. If I were in the CCU administration, I would fax an application to the CAA every day. It’s probably their best shot at moving out of the Big South.

- Campbell has been suggested as a potential candidate. Like Mercer, it’s one of several southeastern schools (including Jacksonville and Stetson) that have started or are about to start non-scholarship football programs. I’m not really sure what Campbell could bring to the table that the SoCon would want, though. Jacksonville and Stetson would add new markets but are not in the league’s geographic footprint, which I suspect will be a major factor in determining what schools are added.

- Other schools mentioned here and there that I don’t think are serious candidates for the SoCon (but you never know): Presbyterian, Winthrop, Tennessee Tech, Eastern Kentucky, North Alabama, West Georgia, Gardner-Webb, High Point, South Carolina State, and USC Upstate.

USC Upstate was suggested on Twitter by Gene Sapakoff, a columnist for The Post and Courier, who was throwing out the idea of a proposed Atlantic Sun-SoCon merger. Uh, no.

SoCon commissioner John Iamarino has preached patience and a waiting game. I haven’t had a major problem with that. It was inevitable that Appalachian State and Georgia Southern would leave, but there wasn’t anything wrong in letting a few other things shake out nationally before making a move. The league had time.

It doesn’t really have time now. Once Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are officially out, the SoCon has to act, and with decisiveness. I hope the conference has been preparing to do just that. I realize that Iamarino may be hamstrung a bit by a disparate membership, but he has to put together a consensus. He has to add new members that will improve the league.

It’s nitty-gritty time.

If FBS schools no longer play FCS schools in football, what are the ramifications?

If you follow college football at all, you probably are familiar with last week’s story out of Wisconsin, where Barry Alvarez was quoted as saying that Big 10 schools would not schedule FCS opponents going forward:

“The nonconference schedule in our league is ridiculous,” Alvarez said on WIBA-AM. “It’s not very appealing…

“So we’ve made an agreement that our future games will all be Division I schools. It will not be FCS schools.”

A couple of quick points:

- Obviously, FCS schools are members of Division I. You would think the director of athletics at a D-1 institution would know that.

- Alvarez claimed that the Big 10′s non-conference schedule “is ridiculous”, yet he is the same AD who in recent years scheduled multiple FCS schools from all over the country, including The Citadel, Wofford, Northern Iowa, South Dakota, Austin Peay, and Cal Poly. The Badgers will play Tennessee Tech in 2013.

Alvarez’s comment drew a lot of attention, understandably so, although it is not a lock that the Big 10 will enforce such an edict. Northern Iowa’s AD was blunt:

I would tell you the loss of the Big Ten schools will be devastating, to UNI and to a lot of our peers. Not just because we wouldn’t play Iowa and have the guarantee, if you think this will stop at the Big Ten…I look at things happening in the equity leagues in fives, and so I have to believe this might lead to additional dominoes…It impacts our ability to generate money in football. It closes the ranks, it closes us out a little bit more.

Samford’s AD had a similar reaction:

If the SEC and ACC make the same decision, we’ve all got to sit back and reevaluate how we’re going to replace our money. If you eliminate those guarantee teams, it puts us in a tough situation at a private school where we don’t get any state funding.

Of course, not everyone is upset. Some in the media welcome the move, eager for what they perceive as “better” scheduling (though suggesting New Mexico State would be a significant improvement over a decent FCS squad strikes me as a bit puzzling). Most members of the college football press/blogosphere, however, understand the potential issues associated with such a decision and the nuances at play. Not all of them do, though — or if they do, they simply don’t care.

The best (worst?) example of this attitude is probably Yahoo! Sports columnist Frank Schwab, who couldn’t be more thrilled with the no-FCS proposal. After writing (in a headline) that “hopefully everyone follows [the Big 10's] suit”, he added:

…hopefully other conferences (and by “other conferences” we mostly mean you, SEC) stop the practice of wasting a precious Saturday afternoon in the fall on FCS opponents. The FCS teams benefit with a large payday, and that’s great for the bean counters at those schools. It’s not good for anyone else.

It stinks for the season-ticket holders that have to pay for a sham of a game. It’s nothing worth watching on television. The FBS team has nothing to gain, because a win is expected but a loss goes down in infamy. And while the FCS team will get enough money to build a new weight room, the most common result is getting pounded by 40 or 50 points, which can’t be that enjoyable for those players.

Some Big Ten-Sun Belt game in September might not be a ratings bonanza either, but at least it’s better than a parade of FCS opponents.

I thought Schwab’s overall tone was a bit much, to be honest. I sent him a tweet, trying to be as polite as possible:

You seem to have a very flippant attitude about the FCS.

His reply:

Oh, make no mistake, no “seem” about it

Okay, then…

My first thought when I read Schwab’s piece was that it was clearly the work of someone who does not understand FCS football, or who has no connection to it at all (Schwab is a Wisconsin alum). Saying that FCS players can’t enjoy the experience suggests he has never spoken to any of them about it. Most small-school players relish the challenge of “playing up”. In fact, such games are often a recruiting tool for FCS coaches. It’s not all about the money.

Earlier in this post I listed six FCS schools Wisconsin has played in recent years. Of those matchups, the Badgers had to hang on to beat Northern Iowa by five points, were tied at halftime with The Citadel, and frankly should have lost to Cal Poly (winning in OT after the Mustangs missed three extra points). I’m not really getting the “sham of a game” vibe with those contests. Now if you want to talk about the 2012 Big 10 championship game against Nebraska in those terms, go right ahead.

Schwab singles out the SEC as the worst “offender” when it comes to playing FCS schools. I think it is only fair to point out that Big 10 schools currently have a total of 37 FCS teams on their future schedules, while SEC schools have 32. (I’m sure the SEC will eventually add a few more.)

Oh, and to quickly dispose of one canard (which in fairness to Schwab, he does not suggest): some people occasionally claim that allegedly easy FCS matchups have given the SEC a leg up on winning BCS titles, because they play fewer quality non-conference opponents. You only have to look at the Big 10 to see that isn’t the case.

The SEC has played more FCS schools in the past than has the Big 10. However, despite that, Big 10 schools have actually lost more games to FCS opposition since 2005 than has the SEC. In fact, no BCS league has lost as many such games (six) or had as many different schools lose them (four) in that time period.

Not playing FCS schools won’t hide the Big 10′s real problem, which is illustrated to a degree by this article, written in August of 2012:

Iowa has four nonconference football dates. It has chosen to fill two of them this year with games against teams from the Mid-American Conference

The reason for this: The Hawkeyes wanted two games they would have very good chances to win.

That’s not exactly a revelation. But perhaps you aren’t aware of just how pronounced Iowa’s (and the Big Ten’s) dominance over MAC teams has been.

The columnist wrote that the MAC was “the Big 10′s football piñata”, which in years past it may have been. Unfortunately for the Big 10 (and to the undoubted surprise of the writer), it would lose three games to MAC schools in 2012, and that was just part of a trend — MAC teams have beaten Big 10 squads twelve times since 2008. (MACtion, indeed.)

As for the Hawkeyes and the “two games they would have very good chances to win”…Iowa lost one of them by one point, and won the other by one point.

The truth is the Big 10 just hasn’t been that good in football in recent years, which doesn’t have anything to do with playing FCS opposition. Dropping FCS schools from Big 10 schedules won’t change things, either. SEC schools aren’t winning all those BCS titles because they play FCS teams; they’re winning them because SEC schools have the best players and (in some cases) the best coaches.

So what happens if the Big 10 follows through and has its members drop all FCS opponents? What happens if other leagues do the same thing?

You’ve seen the quotes from ADs at schools that would be affected. Then there is this take from agent/event promoter Jason Belzer:

If other conferences follow the Big Ten’s lead and stop scheduling games against FCS opponents, the institutions that compete at that level will have two options: 1) look to make up the funds elsewhere, or 2) essentially be forced to stop competing at the same level as the larger institutions. Because it is  unrealistic to believe that any institution can begin to make up the difference in loss of football guarantee revenue by playing any number of additional such games in basketball, it is more likely that the second option will occur. With the loss of revenue, the gap between schools in BCS conferences and those who are not will continue to grow ever wider, leading to what may be the eventual breakup of the approximately 340 schools that compete at the NCAA Division I level.

How soon this may occur remains to be seen, but the the additional millions in revenue the new college football playoff will provide BCS conferences, coupled with their decision to eliminate the one source in which smaller schools could obtain a piece of those funds, will almost certainly accelerate the timetable for any such  fracturing.

I think that is a distinct possibility. I also think it may be the ultimate aim of the Big 10.

Not everyone agrees that the outlook is so dire, and at least one observer believes there are other ways for smaller schools to generate revenue:

FCS schools can take steps to enhance revenue streams outside of the on-field competitions with big schools. For example, very few schools FCS schools have media rights deals. Yet there are an increasing number of regional sports networks (RSNs) and national networks that are looking for programming. In fact, NBC Sports Network signed a media rights deal with the FCS Ivy League to “broadcast football, men’s basketball. and lacrosse.” FCS schools can and should continue to pursue these deals to be less dependent on paycheck changes…
…many institutions do not lobby at the federal or state level for their athletic programs or rely the schools’ lobbyists for their athletic programs. As schools like UNI receive more state funding, it is unclear how much of that funding will go to its athletic department. Therefore, FCS can and should make larger commitments to lobby on their athletic programs’ behalf, especially if paycheck games are eliminated.

That comes from a blog by a group (or maybe just one individual) called Block Six Analytics. I’ll be honest. I don’t buy either of those options.

I think many smaller institutions already lobby on varsity sports interests, and at any rate in most cases there would be a ceiling for actual results. To use The Citadel as an example, the school has in recent years begun to play Clemson and South Carolina in football on a more regular basis, as do several other FCS schools in the Palmetto State.

This outcome was basically due to a request by the state legislature to the two larger schools, neither of which had any real problem with it. However, The Citadel can’t play Clemson and/or South Carolina every year, since there are numerous other FCS programs in the state (Furman, Wofford, South Carolina State, Coastal Carolina, Presbyterian, and Charleston Southern).

The first point, that FCS schools should have media rights deals…um, it’s not like they haven’t tried. I’m sure the Southern Conference would like to have a profitable contract with CBS or ESPN or Al-Jazeera, but that’s not likely to happen. Even the mid-major conferences that do have deals (like the CAA has with NBC Sports) usually only get the benefit of exposure. That’s great, but it’s not a big cash situation.

I’m trying to imagine what reaction SoCon commissioner John Iamarino would have if he was told that he should go right out and find a big-money media rights deal for his league. Eye-rolling? Uncontrollable laughter?

Speaking of Iamarino, he had some comments on the FCS vs. FBS situation that were fairly ominous:

The only reason to have 63 scholarships is to be eligible to play FBS teams and count toward their bowl eligibility. If those games go away, the entire subdivision would have to look at if 63 is the right number. Could we save expenses by reducing the number of scholarships? It would seem to me that’s one thing that would have to be looked at.

I disagree with Iamarino that “the only reason” to have 63 scholarships is to play FBS schools (but I digress).

I’m guessing it hasn’t occurred to some of the more FBS-focused among the media that there could be a potential loss of football scholarships if the Big 10′s big idea comes to pass. No one thinks that would be good for the health of the sport. It would also be an sizable number of lost opportunities for potential students.

Iamarino doesn’t give a number, but I could see the FCS maximum dropping to around 50, based on scholarship costs and the lost income from not playing those games. That’s not much more than the D-2 maximum of 45.

This wouldn’t be the first time a Big 10 proposal had the potential to eliminate athletic scholarships at other schools, of course. As far back as 1948 the NCAA, then largely controlled by the Big 10, enacted the Sanity Code, an attempt to get rid of all athletic scholarships. It was a rule seen by many as benefiting the Big 10 at the expense of mostly southern schools.

Famously, the Sanity Code would not last long, and it is a pleasure to note that The Citadel was one of the “Seven Sinners” at the heart of its eventual destruction. I would hate to see the school have to reduce opportunities for prospective students after all these years.

Block Six Analytics did make one good point, which is that the FCS schools do have one other string in their collective bow, namely the NCAA basketball tournament:

One may argue that it is madness to have such a seemingly large organization completely dependent on one deal. However, this deal also means the NCAA will do everything in its power to ensure that there are enough Division I basketball programs to continue “March Madness” (also known as the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship). This requires that schools outside of the BCS have basketball programs that compete at the Division I level. In addition, this dynamic may allow smaller schools to actually ask for an increased amount of subsidies from the NCAA – especially given the elimination of paycheck games.

This may be the biggest obstacle to the Big 10 (and other power leagues) breaking away from the NCAA sooner rather than later. There is a lot of money in that tournament, and the event works in part because the country is enchanted with the “David vs. Goliath” component that is traditionally the major drawing card of the first two rounds. A basketball tournament only open to 65-75 larger schools wouldn’t be nearly as valuable (whether administrators at the BCS schools all understand this point is another issue).

Having said that, I have my doubts the smaller schools could extract a larger pound of flesh for their participation in the event.

A couple of other thoughts:

- If the Big 10 eliminates games against FCS schools, it will be harder for its member institutions to become bowl-eligible. This could be even more of a problem if the league moves to a 10-game conference schedule, which is reportedly under consideration.

If dropping FCS schools from FBS schedules was done across the board, there wouldn’t be enough eligible teams for all the existing bowl spots. Either the rules would have to be changed to allow 5-7 teams to play in bowls, or a bunch of bowl games would have to be cut.

- Frank Schwab wrote that a “Big Ten-Sun Belt game in September might not be a ratings bonanza either, but at least it’s better than a parade of FCS opponents”. I believe all but one of the current Sun Belt schools were once FCS (I-AA) programs. It’s not that big a difference from playing these schools versus competing against a quality FCS squad.

In addition, if FBS-FCS matchups go by the wayside, then a bunch of FCS schools will likely move up to FBS — more than are already planning to do so.

It’s possible that Alvarez’s comments to a local radio station are just the rantings of one man. I hope so, but I’m not confident that is the case. I think this is probably going to happen (though perhaps not next year). It will have a limited impact unless leagues like the SEC and ACC do the same thing. Then it will become a problem.

When it comes to maintaining financially stable sports programs, smaller schools already have too many problems.

Conference realignment, SoCon style: Is it nitty-gritty time?

Update, March 26: It is definitely nitty-gritty time now

 

Links of interest, with the SoCon meetings (January 29-30) in full swing, and expansion on the agenda:

Jeff Hartsell writes about expansion

John Frierson writes about expansion

ETSU’s student government association supports bringing back football

Georgia Southern AD Tom Kleinlein fires up the troops about a move to FBS

Sun Belt opts for patience

That article about the Sun Belt was tweeted out by, among others, Georgia Southern AD Tom Kleinlein, who stirred up a fair amount of realignment dust at a booster luncheon in Savannah. Kleinlein reportedly said that the SoCon was considering an expansion that involved Mercer, UNC-Wilmington, and Richmond.

He apparently wasn’t on board with that, which is fine. He doesn’t have to be.

This is something that I think needs to be emphasized. It seems reasonable to assume that Appalachian State and Georgia Southern aren’t going to be in the SoCon much longer. If that is the case, there is no reason to expand with any consideration for those two schools’ wishes.

From Frierson’s article:

[Southern Conference commissioner John] Iamarino said the SoCon doesn’t have to wait for another member to leave before acting.

“I do think we need to say, “OK, if X, Y and Z moves are in our best interest, long term, then I think we need to look at them regardless of the situation with App State and Georgia Southern,” he said.

The problem with this is Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are still voting members until they announce they are leaving, and can thus influence any voting for new membership. Since that is the case, I don’t think it is in the best interests of the other schools to come to a decision on the league’s long-term future if those two institutions are a factor in the process.

I’m not being critical of App and GSU here. I’m just saying the schools that will be staying in the conference need to decide what they want the league to be going forward. That means the oft-mentioned “public/private split” may no longer be necessary, or even desired, by a majority of the remaining league members.

It is possible the SoCon could reinvent itself as a league for smaller schools, a la the Patriot League. In fact, from the perspective of The Citadel, I believe that would be the best outcome. I am aware that it would not be the best outcome for all the schools in the league.

Besides the public/private issue,  other considerations may be geography and an institution’s sports portfolio. As an example of the latter, it is possible Davidson (just to name one current SoCon member) may be more interested in a school’s hoops acumen than its location or academic mission.

Let’s fire up the speculatometer to full blast…

– First, this Mercer/Wilmington/Richmond thing. Mercer makes perfect sense, but what about the other two schools?

My theories on UR/UNCW, which are as valuable as any other internet theories (zero value):

1) Richmond would be an affiliate member for football. I cannot imagine UR leaving the A-10 in its other sports to go back to the SoCon. That would be a very hard sell to its supporters. Barring a complete implosion in the A-10 (and possibly the CAA), I can’t see Richmond hoops/baseball/etc. in the SoCon.

Richmond currently plays football in the CAA and I can understand how moving that sport to the SoCon might have some appeal…maybe. The other side of that issue would be the willingness of SoCon schools to let Richmond compete in the league for football only. I am skeptical about that, but it’s not completely out of the question.

2) UNCW is supposed to be rock-solid with the CAA, with its administration on the bandwagon in every way (per UNCW beat writer Brian Mull), especially now that it has a “travel partner” in the College of Charleston.

I’m puzzled as to why the SoCon would have initiated a conversation with UNCW now, though. Could it be the other way around? There may be a little more going on with this one than one might think. Having said that, I don’t believe it will happen.

East Tennessee State is apparently going to resuscitate its football program, and may have a chance to start things off with a well-known head coach if it so chooses. So, is it an automatic selection for the SoCon?

I’m not sure. Assuming that Appalachian State and Georgia Southern leave, the league would presumably want to add two football-playing schools. Perhaps ETSU could be one of those two schools. There are a couple of issues to consider.

1) As I mentioned earlier, it’s possible that some of the old guard SoCon institutions would like the league to focus on bringing in smaller, more selective schools.

2) I think East Tennessee State may have to get in line behind VMI, a school with a much longer tradition within the conference, and the likely preference of most of the small-school bloc (Furman, The Citadel, Wofford, perhaps Elon, maybe Davidson).

There is also the possibility, however remote, that Mercer might be interested in eventually offering scholarships in football. Right now, of course, the Bears haven’t even played a game. Mercer’s gridiron program starts up this fall.

However, Mercer’s facilities will include a 40,000 square-foot field house and a stadium that will seat 10,000 (with 4,500 season tickets having already been sold, months before the opening game). That’s quite a setup for a school that isn’t playing scholarship football. Hmm.

I’ve written about some of this before, but just to update things…

Other schools that have (or will have) football teams and have been mentioned as SoCon candidates in certain corners of the internet:

- Kennesaw State: Reportedly had “preliminary conversations” with the SoCon (and the OVC) in 2011. However, it still hasn’t received the go-ahead to start its football program from Georgia’s Board of Regents. It seems to me that Kennesaw State is a less likely option than may have been thought a few months ago.

I’m going to repeat myself here, but I don’t think Davidson would have elected to remain in the league (instead of joining the CAA) if it thought there was a chance the SoCon was going to add a large commuter school with A) no football program and B) a basketball team that has only five wins over the last 1 1/2 seasons.

- William & Mary: Like Richmond, a former SoCon school. Also like Richmond, unlikely to return to the league, at least as an all-sports member. William & Mary probably would be more interested in the Patriot League if the CAA runs aground, but that league isn’t necessarily an ideal fit for the folks in Williamsburg either. Worth watching.

- South Carolina State: SCSU is bandied about occasionally on various message boards as a possibility. It’s not happening for a host of reasons, not the least of which are the school’s severe institutional problems. Also, I don’t think SCSU would be interested. I could be wrong about that, but it doesn’t really matter.

- Coastal Carolina: Well, admitting Coastal Carolina into the league could potentially result in the SoCon losing several of its longest-tenured members. Because of this, I don’t believe CCU is an option.

It doesn’t do The Citadel, Furman, or Wofford any good to add another instate institution with significant differences in terms of mission and resources. I don’t think the schools on the western side of the league are interested in another Palmetto State school, either.

- Liberty, Jacksonville State: They want to be FBS. They aren’t giving up that dream so easily (especially Liberty).

- Your friendly neighborhood Division II school: No.

- Gardner-Webb, Presbyterian: A pair of Big South schools that would be in the mix if everything fell apart for the SoCon. I don’t think SoConageddon is on the horizon, however.

- Jacksonville: JU would be an interesting candidate if it played scholarship football.

- Tennessee Tech: I don’t think so, but it could be a potential compromise candidate between various factions. Of course, I don’t know if Tennessee Tech would have any interest (it’s currently in the OVC).

Speaking of the OVC, a school that doesn’t play football that has been mentioned in some quarters is Belmont. The Nashville school would be appealing to several league members, from a location aspect for some (UTC, Samford) to an institutional perspective for others (Davidson would probably invite Belmont to the prom).

The problem is twofold, though:

1) Travel costs for Belmont would be very high. It would be a geographic outlier in the SoCon.

2) The OVC is a much better basketball league right now than is the SoCon. Belmont is first and foremost a basketball school (and a very good one).

Other non-football schools that I’ve seen discussed: North Florida (which may be adding football), USC-Upstate, Winthrop, and High Point. I don’t think any of them are realistic possibilities at this time.

I’m like everyone else. I don’t know how things are going to shake out. I suspect you could say the same for John Iamarino and all of his constituents. I just hope that the league does not make a hasty decision. It can still afford to wait. It just has to be ready to act at a moment’s notice. Preparation is good, but the league can still be patient.

Hoops update: a league victory, SoCon vs. CAA, and TV

This post is going to be split into three different topics. Before reviewing and previewing the current on-court antics, I wanted to focus on a couple of recent articles in The Post and Courier. They touch on subjects that impact The Citadel’s department of athletics in general and its basketball program in particular.

With CAA as model, SoCon bids to climb ladder

[College of Charleston] basketball coach Bobby Cremins said he was jealous of George Mason’s league, the Colonial Athletic Association.

“I’d love to see the Southern Conference become something like that,” Cremins said. “That should be the goal of our conference. We use them as a model.”

The source of Cremins’ envy? The three teams the CAA sent to the NCAA tournament last season, and the four at-large bids the Colonial has landed in the last six seasons. That’s four more at-large bids than the SoCon has earned it its entire history dating back to 1939, when the NCAA tournament started.

The SoCon has never sent more than one team — the tournament champion, who earns an automatic bid — to the Big Dance, which expanded to a field of 68 teams last year.

Tangent to make an overly nerdy comment: technically, the SoCon has actually received three at-large bids in its history. From 1939 to 1950, the field for the NCAA tournament was made up of only eight teams. Three times, teams from the SoCon played in the event; on all three occasions, those bids were invitations and not automatic selections. In 1951, the NCAA tournament expanded to 16 teams, and the SoCon champion (North Carolina State) got an automatic bid into the event. Not that it really matters.

Bobby Cremins has yet to take the College of Charleston to the NCAAs, and knows the only way to do so (at least right now) is to win the league tournament. Cremins actually had a solid record as a league tournament coach when he was at Georgia Tech (winning the ACC tourney twice), but hasn’t yet grabbed the brass ring while at the CofC.

I think the information presented in the article underscores how tough a task the SoCon has in trying to emulate the CAA. Besides having larger schools that play in bigger arenas (for the most part), most of the CAA schools don’t have to worry about football. The CAA probably also benefits to a degree from having more of its schools located in larger metro areas, although that can be a double-edged sword.

It’s good that the SoCon is trying to be more strict about its non-conference scheduling, but it’s a difficult balancing act. It should be noted that playing a non-D1 doesn’t have any impact on the RPI. What the league doesn’t want is schools overloading their schedules with gimme games against non-D1s and guarantee games against BCS schools. The SoCon needs its members to play more “in-between” schools. Otherwise, instead of competing with the CAA it risks sliding down into SWAC territory.

Having said that, John Iamarino knows that some of his schools have fewer options than others. That’s the nature of the SoCon and its disparate membership. It would be interesting to know which school drew the commissioner’s wrath for its less-than-acceptable scheduling. If I had to bet, I would put my money on Chattanooga.

Let’s talk about TV

I’ve been meaning to write more about the linked article, which was originally published in early December.

The College of Charleston Sports Network will produce 11 games this season that will be broadcast locally on WMMP or WTAT. Those games also will be available on ESPN3, a streaming Internet service that reaches more than 70 million households worldwide and is available in 85 percent of U.S. homes. Some games also might be carried on ESPN FullCourt, a pay-per-view service available on cable systems.

By season’s end, at least 23 of the team’s 30 regular-season games will be televised.

Does The Citadel need to do something like this? Absolutely.

The startup costs would not be insignificant, but I believe it would be a worthwhile investment. The potential exposure for the varsity sports teams, not to mention the school in general, makes it a no-brainer.

That includes televising home football games in a format that can be used by ESPN3.com or one of the myriad sports TV networks, many of which seem desperate for programming.

It would likely give The Citadel an edge in recruiting — and if the school doesn’t do something like this, it will probably fall behind a host of other schools. Just look at FCS football.

Some of the FCS schools that had the majority (if not all) of their football games televised in 2011: Lafayette, Lehigh, Liberty, Maine, Montana, Montana State, Murray State, Northern Arizona, and seemingly all of the Dakota schools (including, not so coincidentally, national champion North Dakota State).

That’s not even counting schools that have home games televised on public television (like Eastern Illinois) or schools with a two- or three-game deal with a local TV station/cable carrier (like Cal Poly, Colgate, Georgetown, and Holy Cross). Not all of those games wind up on a Fox sports net or ESPN3.com, but plenty of them do.

The opportunities in basketball, baseball, and perhaps soccer and wrestling are there, too.

I’ve long advocated that The Citadel’s coaches schedule non-conference games with an eye to getting on television as much as possible. Now I think it is time for the school to be even more proactive.

The Citadel finally won a league game last week, beating Samford 73-62 at McAlister Field House. It was also the first league home game for the Bulldogs, and I am hopeful that the team can add to the victory total this week. Prior to the win over Samford, it had been very tough sledding, as The Citadel had lost its previous ten games against D-1 competition, all but one by double digits.

The worst of those was a 77-45 drubbing by Furman two days before the Samford matchup, so at least the Bulldogs showed some resiliency in bouncing back from that loss. However, the fact remains that it’s been a struggle all year for Chuck Driesell’s troops, particularly on defense.

The Citadel ranks in the bottom 50 nationally in the following defensive categories: effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, block percentage, and two-point field goal percentage. The Bulldogs are actually dead last (59.3%) in 2-point FG%, 345th out of 345 D-1 teams. The Citadel’s overall defensive efficiency rating (per Pomeroy) is 8th-worst in the country.

Driesell has focused on his team’s defensive issues each and every time he’s discussed the squad’s performances, notably on the post-game radio show. I’ll say this, he’s not one to sugarcoat things, as anyone who has listened to the show can attest.

The win against Samford was a decent (not great) defensive performance. The Citadel has proven to be a tough matchup on the hardwood for the Birmingham Bulldogs over the years, and Saturday night was no exception. Samford shoots a lot of threes by design, but you have to make a decent percentage of them for that strategy to work, and Samford was only 7-29. Some of that was good defense by The Citadel, and some of it was just really bad shooting.

The chief negative for The Citadel was that Samford dominated the offensive glass, particularly in the first half, when it had an offensive rebound rate of almost 60%. The cadets should have led at halftime by about fifteen points, but had to settle for a seven-point edge.

On the positive side of things (after all, it was a victory), Mike Groselle was outstanding (10-10 FG, 25 points) and Cosmo Morabbi had a career night, with 20 points and six assists. The Bulldogs as a whole were solid on offense.

Next up for The Citadel: two more home SoCon games, against Elon and UNC-Greensboro. Elon has been a mild surprise this season, playing about as well as any team in the muddled SoCon North. The Phoenix won at home over South Carolina earlier in the campaign, but recently has hit a slump, losing five straight games.

Losing to North Carolina and San Diego State is not exactly embarrassing, but the streak also includes losses to Dartmouth (a traditional cellar-dweller in the Ivy League), Georgia Southern, and Columbia (another Ivy opponent). Elon has struggled putting the ball in the basket in those five games, as it has not shot better than 36% from the field in any of them. The Citadel needs to make sure that trend continues.

Tough matchup alert: Elon’s Lucas Troutman is a 6’10″ native of Belton, SC, who was on the SoCon’s all-freshman team last year. He scored 22 points against NC State earlier this season and will be a difficult player for the Bulldogs to handle.

On Saturday the Bulldogs host UNC-Greensboro, which is 2-14 and only has one D-1 victory, that over winless Towson. The Spartans are on their second coach of the campaign, as longtime boss Mike Dement resigned in December. It was inevitable, especially after UNCG’s 22-point loss to North Carolina A&T two weeks before.

Wes Miller is the interim coach. Miller is only 28 years old, and may have a chance to keep the job, depending on how the rest of the season plays out for the Spartans. So far he has yet to record a victory as head honcho, although UNCG played well in a 10-point loss at Miami.

As you might expect, UNCG has some really bad stats, particularly on defense. What is unique about the Spartans D is that opponents shoot well from everywhere — three-point range (bottom 15 nationally), inside the paint (ditto), even at the foul line.

UNCG’s best player is Trevis Simpson, a 6’4″ guard. Like Elon’s Troutman, he was on last year’s league all-frosh team. Simpson is a volume shooter who blows hot and cold, but when he’s hot he can get very hot (at Miami, he hit 7 of 11 three-pointers as part of a 36-point explosion). The Citadel must work hard, especially early in the game, to make sure he doesn’t get on a roll.

The Citadel will be a slight underdog in both games this week. However, it will be disappointing if the Bulldogs don’t win at least one of the two contests. That’s the short-term view. As for what these games mean for the season as a whole, I’m hoping to see some improvement on the defensive side of things for The Citadel. If that happens, more wins will follow.

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