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.

5 Responses

  1. We should not accept any school that doesn’t play FCS football, period. Look at the CofC, Davidson and UNC-G. They put all their money into basketball, while the rest of the members have to spend money on football and then basketball.

  2. I completely agree with Josh’s comment. When the SC admitted non-football playing schools , I said it was a BIG mistake . The SC should send UNCG packing and admit only schools with a similar philosophy regarding academics and athletics. The schools mentioned in P&C article and most of those mentioned above are unacceptable or never going to happen. If ASU and GSU depart, then the SC needs 4 football schools –again, UNCG needs to leave the conference.
    Three colleges are a perfect fit -but must upgrade their football programs: Davidson, VMI, and PC. While I would love to see William and Mary and or Richmond back in the conference , that is not going to happen. Mercer could be in a few years. ETSU is not compatible in my opinion and should not be considered. CCU is a rogue school and has no place in the SC.
    The conference leadership needs to be selective and get the SC back on course.

  3. This is how I feel about the all-sports issue…

    Ideally, every school in the SoCon would compete in the league in football, men’s basketball, and baseball. However, that hasn’t been the case for 30 years, since UTC dropped baseball and Davidson began de-emphasizing football.

    There is another thing to consider, which is that some league members may look at The Citadel and point out that we are the only SoCon school without a women’s basketball team…and the only SoCon school without a men’s golf team…and that there are other sports that The Citadel does not offer (men’s soccer, women’s softball) that at least two-thirds of the other member schools do.

    I think it would be hard for The Citadel to lead a campaign to eject UNCG from the league, based on that. I do agree allowing in non-football members in the first place was a mistake. It has led to serious stratification in hoops, since the three schools that spend the most money on men’s basketball are the three non-football schools.

    I want VMI back in the league, because it competes (not that well, to be sure) in football, and men’s basketball, and baseball, and is our natural rival. It also, incidentally, would free up our OOC slate in football if the SoCon remained at 9 football-playing schools, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

    I favor Mercer’s admission, even without scholarship football, because A) it is a good school, in the geographic footprint, that would be a natural for the league in everything but football, and B) I don’t believe for a minute Mercer isn’t planning on adding scholarships within 10 years. Just look at that stadium. That isn’t a non-schollie stadium.

    The reason the league would bring ETSU back, which I agree as an institution doesn’t quite fit what The Citadel would want in a perfect world, is that you need another football school (assuming ETSU does restart the sport), but you also need a school that has a hoops tradition that would appeal to a school like Davidson.

    That begs the question, why are we worried about a non-football school like Davidson? The answer is that Furman (and Elon and Wofford, too) is worried about Davidson, and ultimately The Citadel’s goal should be to be in the same league with Furman and VMI. To do that, then The Citadel has to take into account Davidson’s concerns as well.

    That means there will probably always be a couple of non-football schools in the league. That isn’t the perfect setup, but it may be the best one The Citadel can get.

  4. Insanity is evident in FBS conferences ; however, FCS conferences must be more realistic. Most fans will disagree with my opinion because they are caught up in this realignment madness.
    My ideal SC would be:
    These colleges are the most compatible in academics and athletics. Of course, the last three should upgrade their football programs. All other current members are not. The SC needs to be a solid FCS conference of like institutions. It will never happen but it should…

  5. Come on Dog fans—- agree or disagree . Thanks

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