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Will VMI go back to the future by rejoining the Southern Conference?
VMI has agreed to “exploratory talks” about returning to the Southern Conference, which is in search of three new members to replace departing schools. A formal invitation from the SoCon is not expected before the league’s meetings May 28-31.
Most of the red-letter dates in VMI sports history occurred from 1924 to 2003 in the Southern Conference.
Now it appears the Keydets are destined in 2014 for a return to their longtime athletics home.
Barring some unforeseen road block, VMI is expected to be extended an offer in the next four to eight weeks to rejoin the Southern Conference.
The Charlotte, N.C.-based league also has Mercer and East Tennessee State on its short list as possible replacements for three departing members. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, which combined have won or shared the FCS SoCon football title the past nine years, are headed to the FBS Sun Belt Conference in 2014.
The College of Charleston, a non-football playing member, earlier announced it intentions to join the Colonial Athletic Association in 2014.
The SoCon wants its new members in place by the end of June, so each school can give a year’s notice to its current league. VMI has been a member of the Big South since 2003. ETSU and Mercer are currently members of the Atlantic Sun.
While VMI athletic director Donny White hasn’t spoken publicly about the possible change of leagues, the school released a statement Friday in regards to its dalliance with the SoCon.
“The Southern Conference has approached VMI concerning membership,” the statement said. “VMI has agreed to exploratory talks with the Southern Conference.
“Conference alignments have been very volatile recently, with a number of colleges and universities moving or considering moving to different conferences. VMI feels it is healthy at this point to evaluate the changing membership of conferences and to reflect in a purposeful manner and with an open mind on how this evolving environment impacts the Institute and its athletic programs.”
The ball started rolling Thursday afternoon when presidents and chancellors from SoCon schools selected three schools for upcoming campus visits, where information will be exchanged by each side.
A formal invitation to any or all of the three prospective new members won’t come before the SoCon’s spring meetings scheduled for May 28-31 in Hilton Head, S.C.
Certainly, the SoCon is a good fit for VMI. In addition to longtime rivals The Citadel and Furman, the rest of the league is much more academically compatible with the Lexington military school than its current foes in the Big South.
When it comes to football, VMI would figure to find the competition a little less demanding in a revamped SoCon than the Big South. In nine seasons in the Big South, the Keydets are 11-38 in league games and 25-86 overall.
VMI, which won or shared seven Southern Conference football titles from 1951-77, would instantly enter the SoCon with stronger programs than either ETSU or Mercer should one or both join the league.
ETSU, which was forced to leave the league after 27 years when it dropped football in 2005, is restarting its program. Mercer will compete in the nonscholarship Pioneer League this fall after a 70-year hiatus from the sport.
In regards to basketball, a VMI program that has advanced to the Big South tournament championship game three times in the past seven years certainly wouldn’t be overwhelmed in the SoCon.
The Keydets have averaged 16.6 wins the past five seasons and would figure to bolster a SoCon hoops situation that may lose Davidson, which reportedly is being courted by the Atlantic 10 for membership. Davidson has won the conference tournament five times in the past eight years and advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight in 2008.
by Randy King, Roanoke Times