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Fighting Camels to rejoin Big South after seventeen years in Atlantic Sun
After a 17-year absence, the Campbell University Fighting Camels will return to the Big South Conference.
Campbell University, of Buies Creek, N.C., will be officially reinstated on July 1, 2011 and will be eligible to play for all championships beginning in the fall of 2011. The university left in 1994, after the Big South had planned to end its men’s and women’s soccer championships on a Sunday, which conflicted with Campbell’s former policy of not playing on Sundays. The school switched to the Trans America Athletic (now the Atlantic Sun) Conference soon after. However, the Camels’ motive for returning to the Big South lies in convenience and economic benefit.
Stan Cole, athletic director for media services, thinks the school will save “upwards of $60,000” in travel expenses. Campbell’s shortest trip within the Atlantic Sun (a four-hour drive to USC-Upstate) is on par with what will be their longest drive within the Big South (a four-and-a half-hour drive to Virginia Military Institute). Round-trip travel to all Big South schools is 4,122 miles, a refreshing change from the 9,160 miles of round-trip travel within the Atlantic Sun.
“We are excited about opening this new chapter in the history of Campbell University athletics by returning to the Big South Conference,” said Campbell Director of athletics, Stan Williamson, in 2009. “The Big South Conference membership will provide our student-athletes, coaches, alumni and fans a more ‘travel-friendly’ region of competition to celebrate and enjoy Fighting Camel athletics.”
Campbell University was a charter member of the Big South in 1983, along with Augusta State, Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, Radford and Winthrop.
Times have changed, the Sunday policy has been rewritten and the Camels are looking to make a fast impression on the return to their old conference. If their past says anything about their future, Big South perennials should brace themselves. Campbell claimed 35 combined league regular season and tournament titles throughout their first 10 years as a Big South team and competed in every conference championship game in each sport offered by the league.
“The Big South is proud of its history and heritage, which includes many outstanding performances by Campbell student-athletes and coaches,” Big South Commissioner, Kyle Kallander, said.
In recent years, however, the Camels have failed to impress in the Atlantic Sun. Their men’s basketball team finished 2011 with a 12-19 record and seventh place in the conference. Women’s soccer finished just as poorly (seventh), earning only 12 points out of a possible 30 in their league. Campbell baseball has consistently finished in the bottom three since 2007.
“It’s certainly difficult to predict how teams will perform from year to year, given graduation, injuries and other factors,” said Cole. But for now, Campbell and its supporters are happy to finally make the switch.
“If you can imagine spending 14-hours (one way) on a bus for a baseball series at Florida Gulf Coast,” said Cole, “I think you’ll have a good idea of how delighted our coaches, athletics administration and ultimately, student-athletes, are with the coming change.”
Winthrop athletic director Tom Hickman is less enthused by the prospect of another Big South squad on the schedule but understands the issues behind the change.
“While I don’t necessarily endorse expansion of the Big South Conference,” Hickman said, “I know that conferences are in a position that they feel they must protect themselves because of all the conference switching and realignment, which is going on nationally from year to year.”
Hickman thinks the Camels can adapt quickly to the conference.
“They will be very competitive in our league,” he said, “and will offer strong challenges in particular sports such as golf.”
Campbell and Winthrop athletics differ in a few respects. The Camels have three more varsity sports than the Eagles, including football, wrestling and swimming. While Winthrop is a full member of the Big South Conference, Campbell competes in three leagues at once. The football team plays in the Pioneer Football League and the wrestling squad competes in the Colonial Athletic Association. While Winthrop’s forte lies in men’s basketball (10 championships), the Fighting Camels have only won the tournament once, in 1992 against Charleston Southern University.
The Camels left the conference in 1994 on a high. In their last three years as a member, Campbell won the Big South’s Sasser Cup, awarded to the conference’s top athletic program. Now that the school is back, Cole expects Campbell sports to achieve high goals.
“The opportunity to restore regional rivalries is exciting to all concerned,” he said.
By David Thackham, The Johnsonian