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

As a follow-up to my most recent post on conference realignment, including the SoCon, this is just a quick post on what sports various schools offer, etc…

The SoCon sponsors 19 sports (counting indoor and outdoor track separately). Ideally, a school joining the league would field teams in most of them. A rundown of the offerings for some of the schools that have been mentioned for membership:


Mercer has teams in 14 of the SoCon’s 19 sports. The exceptions: football, men’s track and field (both indoor and outdoor), and wrestling.

It also has teams (or will soon have teams) in several sports not sponsored by the SoCon, including men’s and women’s lacrosse and sand volleyball. Mercer will begin playing football (non-scholarship) this year.


VMI has teams in 11 of the SoCon’s 19 sports. Exceptions: women’s hoops, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s cross country, men’s and women’s golf, and women’s volleyball.

It also fields teams in men’s lacrosse, women’s water polo, men’s and women’s swimming, and rifle.

If VMI were to re-join the SoCon, it may have to add at least one women’s sport that is sponsored by the league.

East Tennessee State

ETSU has teams in 17 of the SoCon’s sponsored sports. It does not have teams in football and wrestling. Of course, ETSU is expected to re-start football in time for the 2015 season.

Kennesaw State

Kennesaw State fields teams in 16 of the SoCon’s 19 sports. There are no KSU teams in football, men’s soccer, and wrestling. Kennesaw State will begin playing football in 2015.

William & Mary

William & Mary has a fairly diverse sports portfolio. It fields teams in 17 SoCon-sponsored sports. W&M doesn’t have a softball team or wrestling squad. It does have men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming, women’s lacrosse, and women’s field hockey.


I don’t really think Belmont is a serious candidate for the SoCon, but I decided to take a look at its offerings anyway. Belmont does not have a football team or a wrestling squad, but fields teams in every other SoCon-sponsored sport.

Coastal Carolina

Coastal Carolina competes in 18 of the 19 sports sponsored by the SoCon. The exception is wrestling. CCU also fields a women’s lacrosse team.


Though I think Richmond is really only an SoCon option for football, I’ll include a rundown of its sports too. For the 2013-14 school year, it will compete in 13 of the 19 sports sponsored by the Southern Conference. Somewhat controversially, Richmond’s administration has decided to drop men’s soccer and men’s track and field while adding men’s lacrosse.

Besides men’s soccer and men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), UR does not field teams in wrestling, softball, and women’s volleyball. In addition to men’s lacrosse, Richmond has or will have women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s swimming, and women’s field hockey.


Like Richmond, Delaware would almost certainly be a football-only candidate for the SoCon (and even that would be a longshot). It has teams in 15 SoCon-sponsored sports, not having teams for men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), men’s cross-country, and wrestling. Delaware also fields squads in women’s field hockey, women’s rowing, men’s and women’s swimming, and men’s and women’s lacrosse.

James Madison

If JMU decides against a possible invitation to the Sun Belt Conference and remains in FCS, it may become a target for the SoCon. Like Delaware, James Madison competes in 15 of the 19 SoCon-sponsored sports. It does not have teams in men’s cross country, men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), and wrestling. JMU has three women’s teams in sports not sponsored by the Southern Conference: field hockey, swimming, and lacrosse.


UNCW competes in every SoCon-sponsored sport except football and wrestling. It also has men’s and women’s swimming.


JU fields teams in 13 of the SoCon’s 19 sports. It does not have men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), men’s and women’s tennis, and wrestling, and its football team is non-scholarship. Jacksonville does have men’s and women’s rowing teams, men’s and women’s lacrosse, and also sponsors women’s sand volleyball (which is an “emerging” NCAA sport; in February, South Carolina became the 31st school to sponsor the sport at the varsity level).


Campbell’s football team is non-scholarship. It competes in every other SoCon-sponsored sport, and also has women’s lacrosse and women’s swimming.

After reviewing these schools and a few others, I came to the conclusion that the Southern Conference is likely to sponsor at least two more sports in the not-too-distant future, namely men’s and women’s lacrosse. Some of the schools in the SoCon’s general geographic footprint that have or will soon have lacrosse for either men or women or both: Mercer, VMI, Kennesaw State, William & Mary, Richmond, James Madison, Furman, Elon, Presbyterian, Campbell, Jacksonville, Howard, Coastal Carolina, Stetson, Delaware, and Winthrop.

More realignment excitement will be coming our way soon, I’m sure…

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
Western Carolina

* 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.


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.


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):

James Madison
William & Mary
College of Charleston*
Rhode Island#
Stony Brook#
New Hampshire#

* 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.

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.