2014 football: what teams will The Citadel’s opponents play before facing the Bulldogs?

Is this relatively unimportant? Yes. Are we still in the month of July, and football season for The Citadel doesn’t start until August 30, and that day can’t get here soon enough, so any discussion about football right now is good discussion? Yes.

I posted about this topic last year too, for the record.

Anyway, here we go:

August 30: Coastal Carolina comes to Johnson Hagood Stadium for the first meeting ever between the two programs. It’s the season opener for both teams, so the Chanticleers obviously won’t play anyone before squaring off against the Bulldogs.

Coastal Carolina’s last game in 2013 was a 48-14 loss at North Dakota State in the FCS playoffs.

September 6: The Citadel travels to Tallahassee to play Florida State. It will be Youth and Band Day at Doak Campbell Stadium, and also the first home game for the Seminoles since winning the BCS title game in January.

FSU warms up for its matchup against the Bulldogs by playing Oklahoma State in JerrahWorld on August 30, and then Jimbo Fisher’s crew get a much-needed week off following the game against The Citadel before hosting a second consecutive Palmetto State squad, Clemson.

September 13: No game, as this is The Citadel’s “bye week”.

September 20: Ah, it’s the Larry Leckonby Bowl, as The Citadel travels up the road to play Charleston Southern, a much-criticized scheduling decision by the former AD. This will be the fourth consecutive home game for the Buccaneers, though they don’t actually play on the Saturday before this game. That’s because CSU’s game against Campbell will take place on Thursday, September 11.

September 27: The Citadel’s first three home games in 2014 all feature opponents that have never faced the Bulldogs on the gridiron. The second of these encounters comes against another band of Bulldogs, the “Runnin’ Bulldogs” of Gardner-Webb. On September 20, G-W will host Wofford.

October 4: Speaking of Wofford, The Citadel will travel to Spartanburg on October 4. It will be the first home game of the season for the Terriers against a D-1 opponent. Wofford tangles with UVA-Wise the week before facing The Citadel.

October 11: The Citadel plays Charlotte, which has back-to-back road games against Bulldogs, as the 49ers play Gardner-Webb before making the trip to Charleston.

October 18: Chattanooga has a very tough stretch in this part of its schedule. The week before matching up with The Citadel in Johnson Hagood Stadium, the Mocs will make the journey to Knoxville to play Tennessee.

October 25: The Citadel travels to Cullowhee to play Western Carolina. It’s Homecoming Week for the Catamounts, which play at Mercer before hosting the Bulldogs.

November 1: Another road trip for The Citadel (and another week as a Homecoming opponent), as the Bulldogs play a conference game against Mercer for the first time. The Bears are at Chattanooga the week before this game.

November 8: VMI is the Paladins’ opponent on November 1, so Furman will play military school opponents in consecutive weeks — both on the road. Furman will play The Citadel in Charleston this year, just as it did last season, due to the turnover in the conference (which resulted in some scheduling adjustments).

November 15:  Samford hosts Western Carolina the week prior to its game against The Citadel. The following week, SU plays at Auburn.

November 22: The Citadel finishes its regular season campaign with a game in Lexington, Virginia, versus VMI. The coveted Silver Shako will be on the line.

On November 15, VMI faces Western Carolina in Cullowhee.

Since Georgia Southern has left the league, there are now only two triple option teams in the SoCon. Only once will a league team face The Citadel and Wofford in consecutive weeks. Furman will play the Bulldogs before facing the Terriers.

Some people think it is important to be the first triple option team on an opponent’s schedule. That is the case for The Citadel when it meets Chattanooga, Mercer, and Furman, but not for its games against the other four league opponents.

Wofford itself will play a triple-option squad before its game against The Citadel, as the Terriers play Georgia Tech on August 30.

VMI actually faces two triple option teams before it plays The Citadel. The Keydets travel to Annapolis for a game against Navy on October 11, and will play Wofford in Spartanburg on October 25.

C’mon, football. Get here…

Riley Report: a brief (and late) preseason preview

Yes, this is late. I was waiting on some information that as of yet isn’t available, so I can’t work on part of the statistical breakdown I had intended to make.

Anyway, what follows is a curtailed preview.

Links of interest:

Schedule

“Quick Facts” from the school website

Season preview from The Post and Courier

SoCon preview, Baseball America

SoCon preview, College Baseball Daily

SoCon preseason polls (The Citadel is picked second in both)

SoCon preseason all-conference teams

Fred Jordan discusses the team’s preparations for the season (video)

Note: all statistics are for Southern Conference games only unless otherwise indicated.

This chart features the 2013 offensive statistics in league play for The Citadel’s returning players:

Player AB R HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
H. Armstrong 120 36 0 13 15 0.383 0.449 0.467 0.916
Mason Davis 140 30 3 7 17 0.336 0.377 0.464 0.841
Calvin Orth 124 26 7 4 25 0.331 0.366 0.565 0.931
Bo Thompson 105 27 9 33 13 0.314 0.493 0.610 1.103
Tyler Griffin 58 14 4 10 20 0.310 0.423 0.552 0.975
D. DeKerlegand 111 22 2 15 23 0.297 0.410 0.441 0.851
J. Stokes 121 20 3 9 18 0.289 0.333 0.413 0.746
Bailey Rush 55 8 2 5 16 0.273 0.328 0.473 0.801
Bret Hines 42 4 0 4 8 0.214 0.300 0.262 0.562
Jason Smith 21 2 0 1 7 0.048 0.087 0.048 0.135
Connor Walsh 3 0 0 0 1 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000
Totals 900 189 30 101 163 0.309 0.389 0.471 0.860

Now, compare that to the totals in conference action for the returning players from this time last year:

AB R HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
Totals 705 94 7 78 142 0.234 0.318 0.333 0.652

You can see why there is a lot of hope for the Bulldogs’ offense this season. Every one of last year’s regulars returns except for catcher Joe Jackson (though he is a big exception, to be sure), and most of those returnees had good-to-excellent campaigns in 2013. The outlook is a lot rosier than it was prior to the 2013 season.

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Assorted stats from this year’s returning players: as a group they were hit by pitches 25 times in SoCon play. Their walk rate (11.2%) per at bat was a tick higher than in 2012 (11.1%), with almost a third of that total courtesy of Bo Thompson, who walked in 31.4% of his at bats.

Thompson was also hit by pitches six times in the league regular season, second on the team to Drew DeKerlegand (seven).

Hughston Armstong had seven of the team’s 23 sacrifice bunts in SoCon action. Nine of the eleven Bulldogs to get at bats in conference play had at least one sacrifice fly (the team had 12 in 30 league games).

The Citadel’s 2013 returnees stole 30 bases last year in conference play (out of 42 attempts). Armstrong, DeKerlegand, and Mason Davis combined for 28 of those steals, with Bret Hines swiping the other two.

That percentage of successful steals (71.4%) isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either, and doesn’t include the seven times Bulldogs on the current roster were picked off in SoCon action.

However, what isn’t taken into account with those numbers is the potential for advancing on errors, balks, etc. Defensive execution in college baseball is not at the same level as it is in the professional ranks, and that goes a long way to explaining the emphasis by many teams on the running game and “smallball”.

Is it overdone on occasion? Yes. However, I never got the sense that was the case for The Citadel last year (other than a Bo Thompson bunt attempt early in the season that made me cringe).

That said, the Bulldogs can do better. In 2012, The Citadel stole bases at a 77.8% clip (42 for 54) while only having five baserunners picked off in league play.

SoCon-only statistics for the Bulldogs’ returning pitchers:

G GS IP H R ER HR ERA K/9 BB/9
Brett Tompkins 1 0 3 1 0 0 0 0.00 15.00 6.00
Ross White 9 0 8 10 4 2 0 2.25 6.75 1.13
James Reeves 13 3 32 27 11 9 1 2.53 7.59 1.69
Logan Cribb 10 8 50.1 50 30 21 9 3.75 8.23 1.97
Skylar Hunter 16 0 20 17 10 10 2 4.50 10.35 4.50
Zach Sherrill 23 0 19 16 13 10 0 4.74 7.11 3.32
David Rivera 18 0 19.2 22 11 11 1 5.03 7.32 2.29
Austin Mason 10 9 33 59 43 34 2 9.27 6.00 2.45
Austin Livingston 2 0 1.2 3 2 2 0 10.80 5.40 5.40
Kevin Connell 10 0 10.1 24 17 15 1 13.06 4.35 2.61
Totals 114 20 197 229 141 114 16 5.21 7.58 2.51

Last year’s corresponding totals:

G GS IP H R ER HR ERA K/9 BB/9
Totals 91 29 226 259 144 123 14 4.91 5.38 3.83

During last year’s preview, I wrote:

The walk rates [in 2012] were obviously too high, and must be lowered. They were not completely unmanageable…but typical Bulldog pitching staffs do not walk people at that rate. Teams that contend for league titles do not walk people at that rate.

I am particularly concerned with the strikeout totals, however. Having a 5.38 K/9 rate as a team is problematic. Pitchers need those strikeouts.

Well, they got those strikeouts, all right. Look at those improved K and BB rates for the 2013 campaign .

In conference play, Bulldog pitchers struck out almost 2 1/2 more batters per nine innings than they did in 2012, and at the same time lowered their walk rates by about 1 1/3 BB per nine IP (remember, this doesn’t count Austin Pritcher’s numbers, and he was only the league’s Pitcher of the Year).

Based on that comparison, you would have to say the Britt Reames Experience is having a very positive effect.

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There are some things to be cautious about, however. The Bulldogs do have to replace Pritcher in the weekend rotation. Last year, returnees had started 29 of the previous year’s 30 league games.

Also, pitching success can vary from year to year, even among returning hurlers. The good news is that the Bulldogs have a lot of options.

The obvious statistic of concern is the team ERA, which actually increased in league play by 0.3 of a run per nine innings. What is interesting about that is the hit rate per nine innings showed almost no variance from 2012 to 2013.

Homers were up, though. On the other hand, nine of the sixteen home runs hit off Bulldog pitching in conference play were allowed by Logan Cribb, and he still fashioned a fine 3.75 ERA.

The increased ERA can be partly attributed to a few bad outings by Bulldog pitchers,and the conference run environment was also an issue. Updated park factors for the league are not available yet, but there was a significant increase in runs (and corresponding league ERA) in 2013.

There were 2068 runs scored in SoCon play in 2013, after 1843 runs were scored in conference action in 2012. The league ERA jumped from 4.69 to 5.42.

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One other thing: no, that’s not a typo, Zach Sherrill really did pitch in 23 of 30 conference games in 2013. He appeared in 48 games overall, shattering the school record for pitching appearances and leading the entire nation in regular-season games on the hill.

At one point during the season, Sherrill pitched in 11 consecutive games. He was very effective (which is why he kept getting the call from the bullpen), but part of me hopes the Bulldogs don’t have to lean on him so often this year.

The Citadel’s DER (defensive efficiency rating) in SoCon play last season was 68.9%, right around where it had been in 2012 (68.8%). The Bulldogs’ DER the last two seasons is much improved from 2011 (63.2%).

While The Citadel committed many more errors in league action in 2013 (57) than in 2012 (39), in terms of actually getting to balls and recording outs, the results were about the same. This indicates that a number of the “extra” errors were overthrows and other types of mistakes, which allowed opponents to advance further on the basepaths.

Double play totals declined from 25 to 14. That may be related to ground ball/fly ball rates from Bulldog pitchers, however.

The league DER in 2013 was only 66.1%, which was down considerably from 2012 (68.4%). I’m not quite sure what to make of that, other than it certainly contributed to the higher run totals across the conference.

Opponents were 29 for 42 on stolen base attempts against the Bulldogs in SoCon games. Ten opposing baserunners were picked off.

The conference as a whole averaged 52 attempted steals per team in league games, with a success rate of 74.3%. Those numbers are inflated slightly by Wofford, which attempted 101 steals in its 30 SoCon contests (and was successful 78 times).

Only Western Carolina allowed fewer stolen bases in conference play than The Citadel, with the Catamounts having a very impressive 51% defensive caught stealing rate (21 for 41).

This is a season that Bulldog fans have been waiting for since…well, since last season ended. The Citadel should be very good on the diamond in 2014. The squad has considerable talent and a lot of experience.

I really like the non-conference schedule this year. Plenty of quality opponents are on the slate, both at home and on the road.

As a result, the Bulldogs may struggle at times in the early part of the season, but they should be well prepared once league play rolls around.

A few things to watch:

1) The weekend rotation, especially the Sunday starter

2) Possible platoon situations at first base/third base/DH

3) The pitcher-catcher dynamic (particularly with regards to baserunners)

4) New contributors, including some who have been around the program (Ryan Kilgallen, for example), and others making their collegiate debuts (such as Austin Mapes)

5) Whether or not Bo Thompson can hit a ball on the fly into the Lockwood Boulevard parking lot

I’m tired of winter. I’m ready for spring.

Spring on the diamond in 2014 could be a lot of fun.

SoCon football geography: where are the prime recruiting areas for the league?

On Thursday, Benn Stancil of the analytics website Mode published an article called “Where Football Players Call Home“. It includes an interactive map that shows the hometowns of every Division I (FBS and FCS) football player, using ESPN as its information resource. The map further breaks down the findings by conference, team, and position.

You could spend hours looking at the various combinations offered up by the map. I’m not saying it would be healthy, but you could do that…

Some of the results are predictable. While big population centers like Los Angeles and Houston are responsible for the most players in terms of volume, the southeast produces the most on a per capita basis.

Then there is the reach of a program, in terms of how wide a recruiting area it has. Stancil came up with a measure of a school’s geographic diversity, describing it as follows:

 I calculated a rough measure of geographic diversity, based on how many states are represented on each team and how many players come from each state. For example, a team with 50 players from one state would have the lowest diversity score, while a state with one player from each of the 50 states would have the highest.

It probably doesn’t come as a shock that the “least diverse” schools from a geographic perspective are located in large, talent-rich states. The 22 least diverse football programs are all from California, Florida, and Texas. They have no need to expand their recruiting areas, so they don’t.

It is also not surprising that the list of most geographically diverse schools includes all of the Ivy League institutions and a couple of the service academies.  Notre Dame and Holy Cross are also near the top in this category. So are two D.C. schools, Georgetown and Howard.

The Mode map accounts for 907 Southern Conference football players on league rosters in 2013, with another 18 from “unknown or unmapped locations”.

Fulton and Gwinnett counties each had 35 SoCon players, part of the talent overload in metro Atlanta. Cobb County had 23 and DeKalb 15.

Other areas of interest to SoCon recruiters: the Charlotte area (including Mecklenburg County, home to 31 league players); Hillsborough County, FL (with 14 players, the most from a county outside the league’s geographic base); Wake County, NC (19); Guilford County, NC (14); Jefferson County, AL (20); Hamilton County, TN (16); and Spartanburg County, SC (17).

Odds and ends from perusing the map of the 2013 SoCon:

- Hennepin County, Minnesota, had four SoCon players. Three of them were at Wofford.

- Mobile County, Alabama, had nine players in the league. Eight of them were Bulldogs — four from Samford, and four from The Citadel.

- Even though it isn’t in the league’s geographic footprint, I think it’s surprising that only five of last season’s SoCon players hailed from Texas. Also, there were only three players from Mississippi, two from Louisiana, one from Oklahoma (The Citadel’s Nick Jeffreys), and none from Arkansas.

- In order, from most geographic diversity to least in 2013:

Wofford
Elon
The Citadel
Furman
Samford
Appalachian State
Western Carolina
Chattanooga
Georgia Southern

- As for the new members, Mercer would have slotted in between Chattanooga and Georgia Southern. It will be interesting to see if that program continues to recruit mostly close to home in future years.

VMI would have been between Samford and Appalachian State. In what may illustrate one of the issues the Keydets have had in trying to be competitive on the gridiron, VMI had the least geographically diverse squad in the Big South last season.

While the state of Virginia has a lot of talented football players, the dilemma for VMI is that A) many other instate schools are recruiting those players, and B) being a military college significantly reduces the number of potential recruits.

The school needs to extend the geographic reach of its recruiting efforts if it wants to establish football relevancy in the Southern Conference. That may be difficult, given certain restrictions.

All in all, I thought this was a neat tool. It may also help to demonstrate which areas will be swarmed with recruiters in the weeks leading up to Signing Day…

McAlister Musings: Forget about being close, just win

Statistics are through January 13, 2014

- The Citadel’s record: 4-14, 0-3 SoCon
– SoCon rank in offensive efficiency (through three games): 3rd
– SoCon rank in defensive efficiency (through three games): last
– SoCon rank in free throw shooting (through three games): last
– SoCon rank in 3-point shooting percentage (through three games) 1st

Yes, the offensive statistics through three league games aren’t bad at all. The Citadel has shot the ball well in its last three games, and fared well on the offensive glass. The Bulldogs also committed fewer turnovers in those three games (though still too many).

However, The Citadel still managed to lose all three of those games, blowing double-digit second-half leads in two of them. For a team that desperately needs a win (or two, or three, or four), it was rather dispiriting.

In those two losses (at home against Chattanooga and on the road versus Wofford), the Bulldogs basically let one player on each team dominate them inside and on the boards. Both UTC’s Z. Mason and Wofford’s Lee Skinner had what amounted to career nights against The Citadel, combining for 17 offensive rebounds and 19 made 2-point field goals (on 31 attempts).

Because of that, the Bulldogs are currently last in league play in defensive rebounding percentage. The Citadel is also last in the SoCon in forcing turnovers. The Bulldogs have given their opponents so many “extra” chances to score that even solid perimeter defending hasn’t been enough.

In the “bad luck” category: The Citadel has done a good job keeping its SoCon opponents off the foul line (ranking 4th in the league in that category). However, those opponents are shooting 77.1% from the charity stripe, the highest percentage against any team in the league.

In the “not bad luck” category: The Bulldogs picked a bad time to go into a free throw shooting slump. No team has shot worse from the foul line than the Bulldogs in league action.

This comes after The Citadel did a fine job shooting free throws during the non-conference slate. However, the Bulldogs have not gone to the foul line enough all season as it is.

The Citadel is shooting slightly less than one free throw attempt for every field goal try (33%). The national average for FTA/FGA is 41%.

Of course, three games don’t reflect the entirety of the season, and the Bulldogs struggled mightily out of conference. The Citadel has as many losses to non-D1s as it does victories over D-1s, having lost to West Alabama and beaten Presbyterian.

For the season, The Citadel is in the bottom 50 nationally in offensive turnover rate, FTA/FGA, two-point field goal percentage, steals rate (offense), defensive rebounding percentage, steals rate (defense), and defensive turnover rate. Thanks to all those issues, the Bulldogs also rank in the bottom 50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

In the Kenpom ratings, The Citadel is currently ranked 339th out of 351 Division I teams.

On the plus side, The Citadel has done a good job beyond the arc, both on offense and defense.

The Bulldogs’ tendency to throw the ball away on a semi-regular basis has been a problem for the past three seasons, as has the defensive issues. I will say that the defending has improved this season, at least on opponents’ initial shots. However, the inability to control the defensive glass has crushed The Citadel.

On his postgame radio show after the loss to Wofford, Chuck Driesell said of his team that “we’re getting close”.

With all due respect to Driesell, I don’t think he can say that. Not right now, anyway.

The goal for this season can’t be to have a record like last year (8-22) or the year before (6-24). This isn’t about trying to eke out a couple of victories or break a losing streak.

Getting close, in the context of this season, is putting together consecutive wins, and building on that — winning four out of six, seven out of ten, etc. Falling short in SoCon games isn’t getting the program to where it needs to be.

Because make no mistake, the Southern Conference is not good this year. It wasn’t very good last year either, but in 2013-14 the league has been dreadful.

There is no reason The Citadel can’t win a bunch of SoCon games, and the next couple of weeks will present the Bulldogs multiple opportunities to bounce back from their bad start in conference play.

On Thursday, The Citadel travels to Greensboro to face the Spartans. UNCG isn’t that bad, relative to the rest of the league, but this is a chance for the Bulldogs to win a road game.

UNCG actually has a turnover rate that is worse than The Citadel’s. Now, the Bulldogs haven’t proven capable of forcing many TOs all season, but this will be one game in which they have a shot at improving on that statistical category. If they can do so, they can win the game.

On Saturday, The Citadel hosts Furman, and then plays Appalachian State at McAlister Field House the following Thursday. I think the Bulldogs should win both contests. Not “can win”, but “should win”. Furman isn’t any better than The Citadel, and Appalachian State has arguably been worse so far this season.

In other words, the Bulldogs ought to win at least two of their next three games. If they don’t, it will be a disappointment.

After the loss to Elon, the sixth straight for the Bulldogs, Chuck Driesell had this to say:

You look at the stats and you think we could have won this game. But we were playing a good team on their home court. We kept our composure, but a couple of breaks didn’t go our way. But more guys are stepping up; everybody’s starting to come around.

I hope so. There would be nothing better than some positive news from the hardwood. Good basketball makes for a shorter winter.

Otherwise, Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow at McAlister Field House once again.

The “unofficial” 2014 SoCon football schedule

Last week the Southern Conference accidentally “leaked” the provisional 2014 composite league football schedule. It has since been removed from the conference website, but here is a .pdf of the document as it (briefly) appeared online:

2014 provisional SoCon football schedule

There are a few things on the provisional schedule that have already been changed. For example, Chattanooga will no longer be hosting Georgia State on September 6. Instead, the Mocs will open their 2014 season at Central Michigan on Thursday, August 28 and will play their home opener against Jacksonville State (apparently on September 6, essentially replacing the Georgia State game).

Not included on the provisional schedule, but announced earlier this year, is a 9/20 meeting between the Paladins and South Carolina State, to be played in Orangeburg. That will be a rematch of the first-round 2013 playoff game won by Furman, of course.

There is also a little confusion about Furman’s opponent on 10/25. Some reports suggest the Paladins will play Chattanooga on that date, but this schedule lists Samford as Furman’s homecoming opponent.

Other “holes” in the provisional schedule include the following:

- The opponent for VMI on 10/18 (a non-league matchup) is unknown. Edit 1/7/14: VMI will play Gardner-Webb on that date, in Lexington.

- Wofford will presumably add at least one more game to its schedule (if not two). As of right now, the Terriers only have four listed home games (including a non-conference game vs. Jacksonville). I’m guessing that Wofford will play another OOC matchup in Spartanburg on either 9/20 or 9/27.

- Western Carolina also will be adding another game or two to its slate. From what I understand, Brevard will almost certainly be an early-season home opponent for the Catamounts.

- Samford has reportedly bought its way out of its game at Southeastern Louisiana, which had been tentatively scheduled for 9/13. SU may want to play a home game on that date instead.

While there are still additions and changes to be made to various schedules, I suspect that the actual league games are more or less official (though the uncertainty about Furman’s home opponent on 10/25 does give one pause). Each team will play seven conference games in both 2014 and 2015, as the league waits for East Tennessee State to restart its football program.

Ultimately, this is just throwing out a little football news to talk about in the middle of December. Nothing wrong with that.

Game Review, 2013: Wofford

Well, that was not a huge surprise…

Actually, there were some elements of the game that were not expected. I didn’t think at this point in the season there would be a discussion about the regression of the offense from last year, but here we are.

There was one Bulldog cheerleader on hand for every offensive touchdown scored by The Citadel in this game. Given that the administration quietly eliminated the cheerleading squad prior to the 2013-14 school year, that’s not good. (Neither is not having any cheerleaders, but that’s a discussion for another post.)

I’ll write more about this game when I preview the Western Carolina matchup later in the week. Right now, though, things are tough for the Bulldogs, and tough in a way that wasn’t really anticipated before the season began.

The only saving grace so far is that The Citadel isn’t the only SoCon team struggling. Furman and Appalachian State are both winless as well (App lost at home to North Carolina A&T…hello).

Wofford, in all honesty, didn’t look that great even in its victory (which unfortunately does say a lot about the Bulldogs’ performance). Chattanooga did what it was supposed to do against Georgia State after not doing what it was supposed to do versus UT-Martin.

Samford has looked decent; the loss to Arkansas was probably more impressive than its win over Georgia State. Georgia Southern basically hasn’t started its season yet, and in a way, neither Western Carolina nor Elon has either.

As usual, I took some pictures. As usual, they aren’t that great. However, I continue to take them anyway…

2013 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel vs. Wofford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 7. The game will streamed on ESPN3.com, with play-by-play from Darren Goldwater and analysis by Paul Maguire. It can also be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

Links of interest:

My (very brief) review post from Game 1

The Citadel’s game notes

Wofford’s game notes

SoCon weekly release

SoCon media teleconference — Kevin Higgins

SoCon media teleconference — Mike Ayers

The Kevin Higgins Show (YouTube)

There are a lot of things that can be said about the season opener against Charleston Southern, almost none of them positive from The Citadel’s perspective.

First and foremost, I want to focus on the last 65 seconds of the first half.

The situation:

The Citadel led 16-7, but Charleston Southern had scored on its previous possession (a 64-yard TD pass) and then forced a three-and-out from the Bulldogs offense. After a long punt return blunted by a personal foul penalty, CSU had the ball at midfield, first-and-10, with 1:05 to play in the first half. The Buccaneers had no timeouts remaining.

On first down, a sack moved the ball back to the CSU 41-yard line. At that point, head coach Kevin Higgins called his first timeout of the half. Why?

Higgins explained later:

We’re thinking, we’ll call a timeout, go block a punt before the half. We’ve done that for the last three years, used the same kind of strategy, see if we can block a punt or get a drive at the end of the half.

Charleston Southern gained nine yards on its next play, setting up third-and-10 at the 50. The clock kept running, and The Citadel did not use a timeout.

I’m not sure why you wouldn’t call the second timeout if the idea was to have time left to block a punt or set up a return. It wasn’t like it was third-and-1. It was third-and-10.

That decision led to several things, none of which were good for The Citadel. First, CSU essentially got a “free shot” at making a big play on offense with the clock running out, and the Bulldogs were lucky that the Bucs narrowly missed connections on a pass over the middle that would have gone for big yardage (if not a TD).

That incompletion stopped the clock with less than 20 seconds to play in the half. On fourth down, CSU punted. The Citadel did not rush the punter (I went back and looked at the video to make sure). A return was not exactly set up either (a fair catch was called prior to the muff). Why anyone was even back to attempt to catch the punt strikes me as a fair question.

If the timeout had not been called after first down, the half would have ended without a punt even occurring. Instead, the Bulldogs were put in a position to fail with no realistic potential for success.

After the fumble recovery, Charleston Southern had the ball at the Bulldog 19-yard line with 12 seconds left in the half, and no timeouts. The one thing the defense can’t give up in that situation is a TD pass.

Tackle the receiver before the ball gets to him if that’s what it takes to stop the completion. In the worst-case scenario, pass interference would have put the ball at the Bulldog 4 and left the Bucs only one play (possibly two) before the half, which likely would have been a field goal attempt. The defense just can’t let a pass be completed in the end zone there.

I understand you’re asking a player to do something that would probably be against his instincts as a defender. It’s also possible the coaches discussed the strategy (The Citadel called its second timeout after the punt) and it wasn’t properly executed. For those reasons, I’m not bothered as much by the TD play as I am the game management that preceded the punt.

At any rate, the last minute of the first half was the key sequence in the game, and it was badly mishandled by The Citadel.

There were other missteps, too. The Citadel went for two points too early (though that was at least somewhat defensible). The playcalling, particularly on the final offensive series, left a lot to be desired.

The defense let CSU saunter right down the field to open the third quarter, as easy a TD drive as you could want, and gave up the aforementioned long TD pass on a badly blown coverage. There were other forgettable moments, too.

That end-of-half debacle, though…that’s a hard one to shake off.

It was nice of Kevin Higgins to talk about the “great job” Jamey Chadwell and his staff did in preparing for the game, but his comments did not exactly make Bulldog fans feel better. Also, I’m sure Chadwell is a good coach, but he’s the same guy who elected to punt on fourth-and-6 from the Bulldog 34 in the second quarter, with his team down two scores.

Punting from inside your opponent’s 35 in that situation (or almost any situation) is a decidedly sub-optimal strategy. I’m not convinced yet that Chadwell is the Albert Einstein of college football, which makes the whole ‘it was hard for our offense because they used a bunch of defensive fronts’ thing all the more galling.

With all due respect to Charleston Southern, this game wasn’t about the Buccaneers doing anything particularly exceptional. It was about The Citadel handing CSU the contest on a silver platter with fancy trimmings. It wasn’t a “disappointing loss”; it was a disastrous, unacceptable one.

I’ll wait until a later time (perhaps next week) to write about some of the ancillary elements from last Saturday, including the noticeable lack of cheerleaders and the disappointing crowd attendance. I’m very curious to see if there will be any changes in terms of off-field activities.

For example, will the band be allowed to play following the kickoff? Sometimes during the game I forget The Citadel even has a band, to be honest.

This is the seventh time in the last eight years the game between The Citadel and Wofford is being televised over the air (SportSouth, SCETV, etc.) or streamed on ESPN3.com. For the second year in the row, the game is on ESPN3.com, and for the second year in the row the announcers are Darren Goldwater and Paul Maguire.

The Citadel’s 42-20 victory in the season finale against Furman last year was only the second time in the Kevin Higgins era that the Bulldogs had won a televised/ESPN3-streamed game. Goldwater was the gamecaller for ESPN3.com that day too (with analyst Doug Chapman). It would be novel to win two in a row on ESPN3.com.

The average score between Wofford and The Citadel had been 34-14 in the seven years prior to last year’s game, which was obviously much closer. Among other items of interest, Wofford was penalized for 59 yards in that contest, almost twice as many yards as the Terriers had been penalized against the Bulldogs in the previous four games combined.

However, Wofford did not commit a turnover against the Bulldogs last year. That has been a trouble spot for The Citadel over the past few years against all opponents, one that emerged again last Saturday when the Bulldogs failed to force a turnover against Charleston Southern.

It is hard to judge anything about Wofford based on its game against Baylor, which the Terriers lost 69-3. I believe that Baylor is going to be one of the elite offensive teams in the country this year, and a serious contender for the Big XII title. Very few teams are going to be able to handle the Bears’ speed and general offensive execution; Wofford certainly couldn’t.

If you want to see the Wofford-Baylor game for yourself, you can, and in an extremely handy 50-minute package: Link

Tangent: That video is part of something the Big XII does for all its games that is called “No Huddle”, a concept that is undeniably awesome. All the plays, none of the fluff, loaded up to YouTube the Monday after the games. More of that, please.

Wofford injury report:

There were no major injuries in the Baylor game.

That is in the Wofford game notes. However, from Todd Shanesy of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal:

Wofford halfbacks Cam Flowers and Ray Smith, who suffered concussions last week in the game at Baylor, will be tested Friday to see whether they can make the trip to The Citadel…

…Flowers, a third-year sophomore from Damascus, Ga., made his second career start Saturday against Baylor and had four carries for 13 yards. Smith, a true sophomore who is Dorman High School’s all-time leading rusher, had three carries for 15 yards. He was listed as the backup to the other starting halfback, sophomore Will Gay from T.L. Hanna. Octavius Harden, a sophomore from Conover, N.C., was behind Flowers.

Flowers and Smith were two of the eight Terriers who got carries against The Citadel in last year’s game. Gay and Harden also saw action in that contest (Gay scoring a touchdown).

Wofford has plenty of fullback/halfback types, so if Flowers and/or Smith can’t go, the Terriers should still be in good shape. Wofford also returns the two wideouts who caught passes against the Bulldogs (Jeff Ashley and Will Irwin).

Starting fullback Donovan Johnson rushed for 473 yards last season as the backup to now-graduated Eric Breitenstein. A lot of that yardage came from the halfback position, as Breitenstein (understandably) saw the bulk of the time at FB.

The Terriers only returned two starting offensive linemen from last year’s squad, but they’re both good ones. Jared Singleton and Ty Gregory were each named to the SoCon’s preseason all-conference first team. There is still competition for at least one spot along the Wofford line.

Then there is the quarterback position. With one year of eligibility remaining, Brian Kass elected to transfer to Coastal Carolina. With Kass out of the picture, three players have battled for the Terriers’ starting QB spot. James Lawson started two late-season games for Wofford last season and also opened behind center against Baylor. He will likely start against The Citadel, but both Evan Jacks and Michael Weimer are expected to play.

Wofford lost six starters off its defense, but returns preseason all-league pick Alvin Scioneaux at outside linebacker. Free safety James Zotto had six tackles against the Bulldogs last season, tied for the most by a Terrier in that game. Two of Wofford’s starters along the defensive line are back, including second-team SoCon selection Tarek Odom and 6’2″, 290-lb. noseguard E.J. Speller.

Starting defensive end Hunter Thurley (a redshirt freshman) is 6’4″, but listed at just 245 lbs. In general, Wofford’s d-line is undersized (Speller is a notable exception) and the linebackers are tall and rangy.

Kasey Redfern handles all the kicking duties for the Terriers. Will Gay is Wofford’s punt returner and is usually joined on kickoffs by Cameron Flowers, though Flowers’ status will be in doubt up until gametime.

Odds and ends:

- I am not a big fan of Ben Dupree returning punts. I’ll hope for the best.

- Based on the two-deep in The Citadel’s game notes, it appears Tyler Renew may not get cleared by the NCAA in time for Saturday’s game. Shaunn Middleton is listed as Darien Robinson’s backup. Incidentally, Renew was listed in last week’s game notes as the second-team B-Back.

- Nick Jeffreys is listed as the tight end on the two-deep. No other player is listed at the position.

- Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium for Wofford’s past four visits: 11,290 (2005), 14,879 (2007), 15,155 (2009 — Homecoming), 12,316 (2011)

The last time Wofford entered the game against The Citadel with as many questions as the Terriers have this season, it was 2009. That wasn’t an early-season situation, though. In 2009, Wofford suffered through a series of injuries and finished with a 3-8 record.

One of those three victories was a 43-17 win over the Bulldogs, as listless a Homecoming performance from The Citadel as I’ve ever seen in person at Johnson Hagood Stadium. I am not sure what to expect from The Citadel in this year’s game, but it better not resemble anything like that.

I don’t think it will. I expect the Bulldogs to come out fired up and ready to prove something.

That doesn’t mean I expect a victory, though. A win for The Citadel on Saturday night is probably not in the cards.

Having said that: while I’m frustrated, and a little disgusted, and not all that confident the team can recover from its opening-night failure…I’m not giving up on this team. It’s my team, no matter what.

I’ll be cheering them on at Johnson Hagood Stadium this Saturday night, and I hope many other people will be doing the same.

Social media and the SoCon: the age of Twitter and Facebook

Last week, I saw a ranking of college sports twitter feeds posted at Tennessee’s athletics website. I thought it was interesting, though I wouldn’t want to draw any immediate conclusions from the data.

I decided to see how the SoCon schools compared to each other when it comes to Twitter and Facebook presence. This proved to be difficult, because schools don’t necessarily approach Twitter and/or Facebook in similar ways.

The league is almost evenly split between schools that have football-specific twitter feeds and those that do not. Samford has nine different sports with dedicated twitter feeds; meanwhile, Wofford doesn’t have any. There is significant variance in the number of Facebook pages created by the individual schools. Those are just a few of the differences.

Part of the reason for the contrasting approaches is probably manpower, and part of it is likely philosophical. Not everyone thinks having multiple Twitter feeds and Facebook pages is such a great idea for smaller schools. Says one social media consultant:

In college sports, unlike professional sports, fans usually have an allegiance to a school, not a team. To say that fans would be annoyed by news from other school sports in their Twitter feed might be an error…

We found that the majority of…fans appreciated news from other sports, and wanted one main feed where they could get all the news. Most of the sports communicators I’ve talked with at non-BCS schools say their fans feel the same way. Their allegiance is to the school, not a particular team.

The opportunity to showcase the team across multiple channels is much more important to a school than having a sport-specific Twitter feed or Facebook page…smaller schools (non-BCS schools) need to think about scale, not volume…Their fans bases are simply too small.

Another consideration is the percentage of people who use the different social media elements. A survey taken at the end of last year suggested that usage among internet users breaks down this way: 67%, Facebook; 16%, Twitter; 15%, Pinterest; 13%, Instagram; and 6%, Tumblr.

I would say that if your school decides to have a dedicated feed for a sport on Twitter, then it should have a Facebook page for that sport as well — and vice versa. I also am of the opinion that Instagram is on the rise, and that not using YouTube to promote your school and its teams is a major mistake.

Included in my mini-survey are all current SoCon schools, the school that just left (College of Charleston), and the three schools that will enter the league next year (East Tennessee State, Mercer, and VMI). The numbers listed (“follows” and “likes”) are as of the weekend of July 13-14.

What follows are a few observations, and then some tables, with two caveats:

1) I may have missed a couple of school feeds/pages. If I did, it’s not my fault. It’s the fault of the school(s), for not making it simple for an easily confused person like myself to find their feeds/pages.

2) Twitter and Facebook are far from the only things happening in social media, of course. For example, The Citadel has done an excellent job in recent months using YouTube, and it is not alone on that front. A few schools have taken a spin with Pinterest.  Instagram has been embraced by several of the league members (as well as the SoCon office itself). However, Twitter and Facebook are the focus of this post.

- The league website has a “Social Media Directory” that needs to be updated. For one thing, CofC isn’t in the conference any more [Edit 8/16: the CofC links have now been removed from the directory]. The feeds themselves also need to be checked; some are not valid, and there are also a number of omissions.

I don’t really blame the SoCon office for this as much as I do the individual schools. It’s probably very difficult, if not impossible, for the league office to keep up with team-specific feeds.

On the other hand, someone at the conference probably ought to know that @CoachMikeDement shouldn’t be the listing next to UNCG’s “Head MBB Coach” line, since he hasn’t been the Spartans’ coach for over a year and a half. Wes Miller is clearly upset about this.

- Speaking of UNCG, its AD, Kim Record, is on Twitter, and she is listed as such in the SoCon directory…but her feed is protected.

- Furman’s most-followed feed is its general athletics feed, which is not a surprise. The second-most followed Furman feed, however, is for a coach of a program that has yet to win a game. The Paladins will start playing men’s lacrosse in 2014, and head coach Richie Meade (formerly the longtime lacrosse coach at Navy) has 1024 followers.

- The twitter feed for Furman’s baseball program is run by players.

- Davidson, a basketball-first (if not only) school if there ever was one, doesn’t have a dedicated feed for men’s hoops, and head coach Bob McKillop isn’t on Twitter.

- At least one SoCon head football coach follows two different Jenn Brown accounts.

- Chattanooga’s wrestling feed has 2574 followers, which stacks up fairly well when compared to other programs across the country. The most I found for a collegiate wrestling feed was for Oklahoma State (11857). Defending national champion Penn State has 5750.

The other two SoCon schools with wrestling feeds are Appalachian State and The Citadel, though I should mention that UNC-Greensboro has a dormant feed as well (one that became inactive when the school dropped its wrestling program).

- Several SoCon schools have twitter feeds for their equipment room/staff. They tend to be fairly well-followed, too, partly because equipment room staffs from across the country all follow each other. Equipment guys circle the wagons.

- The new head football coach at East Tennessee State, Carl Torbush, isn’t on Twitter. However, there are two different parody Carl Torbush accounts, though both are inactive. ETSU’s athletics twitter feed is following one of them.

- I only found one other fake twitter feed for a conference football coach. Western Carolina’s Mark Speir has been so honored. Also parodied: SoCon commissioner John Iamarino.

- As of this weekend, Samford only had 44 followers for its men’s hoops feed, but that’s because it only established the feed on July 2.

- VMI seems to have two different official university (non-athletic) twitter feeds. Neither has many followers; perhaps I’m just missing the “real” feed.

- Of the six SoCon schools that have dedicated twitter feeds for both baseball and men’s basketball, five of them have more baseball feed followers, which may say something about the league’s status in each sport. I didn’t include College of Charleston in that group of six since it is no longer in the league, but it also has slightly more baseball feed than hoops feed follows.

- East Tennessee State doesn’t have a football twitter feed yet, or a pigskin Facebook page, but it does have a notable fan “bring/brought back football” presence for Twitter and Facebook.

- Wofford athletics only follows one feed, that of PGA pro (and Wofford alum) William McGirt. Similarly, the Facebook page for Wofford athletics only “likes” one entity — the 2012 Southern Conference basketball tournament.

- GSU head football coach Jeff Monken takes it one step further than Wofford, however. Just like Jay Bilas, Monken doesn’t follow anybody.

- With VMI being admitted to the league, the Southern Conference facebook page made sure it “liked” VMI’s university facebook site. Unfortunately, it appears the actual “active” VMI school facebook page is this one.

- UNCG is the league school with the most sport-specific Facebook pages, having one for eleven different varsity sports.

- I found a few sport-specific facebook pages that are essentially dormant. However, they are still “official”, and since they have not been deleted I included them in the tables.

- Of the lower-profile SoCon sports, volleyball may be the most active in terms of social media. Seven conference schools feature Facebook pages for volleyball, and that doesn’t include CofC or ETSU, both of which also have pages for their volleyball teams. CofC and ETSU join six SoCon schools that also have twitter feeds for volleyball.

Some of the Twitter and Facebook statistics for follows/likes are grouped in tables below. I didn’t list all the sports feeds/pages that are on Twitter/Facebook, just some of the ones that tend to draw the most interest.

Twitter

Athletics
Appalachian State 10644
The Citadel 2292
Davidson 3970
Elon 4300
Furman 2951
Georgia Southern 8493
Samford 3131
UNC-Greensboro 3466
UT-Chattanooga 4144
Western Carolina 3773
Wofford 3171
College of Charleston 4726
East Tennessee State 2651
Mercer 1578
Virginia Military Institute 1521

Football
Appalachian State 1133
The Citadel 692
Furman 759
Samford 939
UT-Chattanooga 900
Mercer 1270
Virginia Military Institute 261

Head Football Coach
Appalachian State 2585
The Citadel 555
Furman 236
Georgia Southern 4515
Samford 1005
UT-Chattanooga 571
Western Carolina 1301
Mercer 679
Virginia Military Institute 382

Men’s Basketball
Appalachian State 700
The Citadel 190
Elon 956
Furman 149
Samford 44
UNC-Greensboro 866
UT-Chattanooga 637
College of Charleston 2135

Head Men’s Basketball Coach
The Citadel 335
Furman 675
Georgia Southern 730
Samford 370
UNC-Greensboro 7572
UT-Chattanooga 2438
Western Carolina 1418
East Tennessee State 412
Virginia Military Institute 584

Women’s Basketball
Appalachian State 1338
Davidson 102
Elon 341
Furman 416
Georgia Southern 347
Samford 398
UNC-Greensboro 505
UT-Chattanooga 827
College of Charleston 590
East Tennessee State 374

Baseball
Appalachian State 2141
The Citadel 1263
Davidson 444
Elon 1015
Furman 427
Georgia Southern 1030
Samford 1206
UNC-Greensboro 332
College of Charleston 2413
East Tennessee State 579
Mercer 561

Facebook

Athletics
Appalachian State 5946
The Citadel 2301
Davidson 4771
Elon 4426
Furman 2629
Georgia Southern 12302
Samford 3590
UNC-Greensboro 6276
UT-Chattanooga 6459
Western Carolina 13546
Wofford 4586
College of Charleston 2405
East Tennessee State 3951
Mercer 1865
Virginia Military Institute 3632

Football
Appalachian State 45948
The Citadel 2117
Elon 867
Georgia Southern 3482
Samford 256
Western Carolina 235
Mercer 2244

Men’s Basketball
Appalachian State 2474
The Citadel 74
Davidson 554
Elon 982
UNC-Greensboro 1491

Women’s Basketball
Appalachian State 61
Davidson 187
Elon 648
Furman 612
Georgia Southern 241
UNC-Greensboro 476
UT-Chattanooga 731
College of Charleston 221
East Tennessee State 552

Baseball
Appalachian State 1659
The Citadel 408
Elon 307
Furman 177
Georgia Southern 745
Samford 1282
UNC-Greensboro 170
East Tennessee State 274

Conference realignment, SoCon style: history repeats itself

Everyone knows that the Southern Conference has been through a lot of membership changes over the years, with two splits of particular note leading to the formation of the SEC (in 1932) and ACC (1953). However, there have been other moves of consequence since then, and a few of those are instructive when looking at the current SoCon landscape.

This post is just an overview of some of those machinations. Not all of them, though. That would take up way too much bandwidth…

Tangent: linked above is a 1953 article on the newly formed ACC, which noted that Virginia and West Virginia were “running a neck and neck race” for the eighth spot in the league. UVA won that contest, much to the displeasure of certain WVU bloggers who had been confidently tweeting about WVU’s inevitable invite, despite the fact that Twitter had not yet been created and they had not yet been born.

When it comes to movement among SoCon schools over the last four decades, there have been two major themes:

- Davidson’s skittishness

- Longtime CAA commissioner Tom Yeager’s occasional, grandiose attempts to break up the SoCon

First up, the Wildcats.

The league lost four more members in the seventeen years after the ACC schools made their exit. Washington and Lee departed in 1958, Virginia Tech left in 1965, and West Virginia finally moved out of the conference in 1968.  George Washington dropped out in 1970.

Once the Colonials had left the league, that meant Davidson and VMI were the only two schools remaining in the SoCon that had ever won the conference’s men’s basketball tournament, then and now the nation’s oldest. Perhaps Davidson took this as a sign to start making moves of its own, or maybe those moves would have happened anyway.

At any rate, from that point forward Davidson has been the league’s femme fatale, always a doubt, sometimes leaving, sometimes staying, once actually gone, then suddenly back.

In 1969, Davidson’s football team, led by the estimable Homer Smith, went 7-4 and won the Southern Conference. The Wildcats played in the Tangerine Bowl.

By February 1970, Smith was gone, resigning after the school’s board of trustees decided to cut his budget by almost half. Then in 1973, Davidson decided to de-emphasize football by eliminating football scholarships.  In a move that reporter John Kilgo described as “bush league style”, the school administration notified the press before telling the AD, football coach, or the players. (Kilgo would later become the Wildcats’ radio play-by-play announcer for basketball.)

Davidson’s decision to get out of the scholarship football business didn’t go over very well with some of the other league members, but by then there were other issues too. The looming I-A/I-AA split was one of them. It was a key factor in East Carolina and Richmond leaving the SoCon, and Richmond’s departure also led to William & Mary and VMI leaving — but then the folks in Lexington changed their minds, and VMI stayed.

Both Richmond and ECU wanted to remain at the I-A level, as did William & Mary, and those schools were concerned that the SoCon’s recent or inevitable additions of Appalachian State, Western Carolina, UT-Chattanooga, and Marshall would result in the league becoming a I-AA conference. (Another school that had been interested in joining the league, James Madison, was not seriously considered.)

The departing schools tried to form a new “Big Conference“, which would have included Richmond, East Carolina, William & Mary, VMI, Southern Mississippi, and South Carolina. They were hoping to add two or more of Virginia Tech, West Virginia, and Florida State. It didn’t work out (FSU soon wound up in another new league, the Metro).

Of those schools that left the Southern Conference, only ECU would remain in the subdivision now called FBS.

Then Davidson decided to leave the SoCon, effective July 1, 1977. The school stated that it wanted “to associate with an athletic conference offering national-level competition in basketball.” Sound familiar?

However, the school changed its mind in February of 1977 and decided to stay.

By now the league had two “established” schools (The Citadel and Furman), one recent entrant (Appalachian State), three other new schools (WCU, UTC, and Marshall), and two other schools that had been in the league for a long time but had considered leaving (Davidson and VMI).

It didn’t take that long for Davidson to shake things up again in the SoCon. In 1985, the school decided to join the new Colonial League (later renamed the Patriot League) for football. The rest of the Southern Conference schools, however, turned down Davidson’s request to remain in the SoCon for its other sports. Davidson then left the league in 1988.

Tangent: in another article around that time, it was mentioned that the Southern Conference’s constitution “limits membership to 12 institutions”. I thought that was interesting.

By the following year, though, there were Davidson-back-to-the-SoCon rumblings. That was because Marshall was already making noises about leaving the league (though that didn’t happen until 1997). Among the schools reportedly in the mix at that time: Richmond, James Madison, and William & Mary (all as football-only members, a concept the conference ultimately rejected), Eastern Kentucky (which was still on the SoCon radar six years later), and Liberty.

Eventually, Davidson would be brought back into the league (sans football) in 1992.

Now in the space of two years, Davidson has turned down the CAA and is seriously considering the Atlantic 10. There is nothing new under the sun.

Tom Yeager’s first known attempt to punch a gaping hole in the SoCon came in 1996. At the time, the CAA did not sponsor football. Yeager was intent on changing that, and in a big way. The CAA apparently tried to entice The Citadel, Furman, VMI, and Davidson (yes, despite its football situation) to join a league that would have also included Richmond, William & Mary, and James Madison.

That didn’t happen. Neither did a potential 12-team SoCon football league.

Not on the CAA wish list in 1996: Georgia Southern, which had joined the Southern Conference in 1992. Five years earlier, a SoCon spokesman had suggested that GSU was “a little bit beyond the fringe geographically” to become a league member. However, a little-known shift in a continental tectonic plate moved Statesboro significantly closer to conference headquarters, and Georgia Southern was eventually invited.

Yeager came back with a vengeance in 2000, and this time he had an even bigger idea. The CAA went after no fewer than seven Southern Conference schools: VMI, Furman, The Citadel, Davidson, Wofford (which had joined the SoCon in 1997), UNC-Greensboro (which had also joined the conference in 1997), and the College of Charleston (a SoCon member since 1998). The CAA would have been a fourteen-member league, with eight of those schools playing football.

The gambit failed when Richmond stunned the CAA in May by moving to the Atlantic 10. In the wake of UR’s departure, the SoCon invited JMU and William & Mary to join. However, those schools elected to stay in the Atlantic 10 for football. Eventually, the Atlantic 10 football schools would all fall under the CAA umbrella (though that didn’t officially happen until 2007).

At the same time the SoCon was extending invites to JMU and William & Mary, the CAA offered VMI a spot in its league. VMI (second only to Davidson in its league identity issues) decided to stay, but was out of the SoCon three years later. Now, of course, it is a leading candidate to return to the league.

Last year, Yeager and the CAA attempted to grab three SoCon members: Appalachian State (which obviously had FBS aspirations instead), the College of Charleston (which jumped) and Davidson (which said thanks but no thanks). In 2013, internet rumors continue to swirl about various SoCon-to-CAA transfers, from the prosaic (Elon and only Elon) to the fanciful (the fabled “expanded CAA southern division”).

We’ll see what happens — or doesn’t happen. With the SoCon, something usually happens.

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 make 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.

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