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Bidding farewell to the Southern Conference
Media members, a few less than the 1,200 who requested credentials to the SEC Media Days, will be converging on Spartanburg, S.C., for the Southern Conference football media day Wednesday.
Usually the rouser is an upbeat event. This one expects to be different with Georgia Southern and Appalachian State leaving. And while the league’s survival won’t be an issue, it’s once high status in Football Championship Subdivision will be a distant memory.
Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well.
That’s the famous slightly misquoted line from Hamlet, who picked up the remains of an exhumed court jester’s skull in the William Shakespeare play and began a soliloquy on death.
Writers might have similar sentiments for the Southern Conference. GSU and ASU take their combined nine FCS titles after this season. The conference’s athletic reputation has had other escapees. Basketball power Davidson and the memories of Stephen Curry are headed out too, opting to join the Atlantic 10.
And Elon and its strong baseball program are also out the door. The Phoenix will unite with the Colonial Athletic Association.
The College of Charleston, once one of the SoCon’s top basketball and baseball programs, already officially joined the CAA on July 1.
Alas, poor Southern Conference, I don’t know you very well any more.. Few FCS conferences have ever been as totally ravaged.
The league restocked with East Tennessee State, Virginia Military and Mercer. But that’s not exactly I-AA’s version of Murderers’ Row. Mercer is restarting football for the first time since the war — World War II.
There may be some Georgia Southern fans out there still uncertain about the school’s move to the FBS. But knowing what you know now, would you want to stay in the Southern Conference? What was the alternative?
It now looks as if the Eagles squeezed into one of the last lifeboats off the Titanic.
Don’t laugh, the competition level drops so low that Western Carolina’s football team, 3-44 in conference play during the last six years, could be circling 2014 as the year it flirts with .500.
A confusing 2013
In a nutshell, all the movement in the Southern Conference is just part of the changing landscape in college athletics. Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are headed to the Sun Belt Conference as part of a four-school reinforcement in 2014.
In the meantime, GSU and ASU will play the 2013 football season in the Southern Conference, but neither school will be eligible for the league title or an FCS playoff bid.
Potentially, and most likely, the team with the third best record in the Southern Conference will be crowned league champion.
It may sound like punitive measures against the two defectors, but there are good reasons for the league to take such actions. The Eagles and Mountaineers will be playing with rosters of more than the maximum 63 scholarships allowed by the Football Championship Subdivision.
Eventually, Southern and Appalachian will have the FBS maximum 85 scholarship players on their rosters.
To further complicate matters, the Eagles and Mountaineers can play for a Sun Belt Conference regular-season title in 2014, but won’t be eligible to play in a bowl game – the automatic prize for the league winner.
If ever there’s been a league to handle change, it’s the Southern Conference. The league originated in 1922 and was home to most of the schools that eventually formed the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference.
Georgia Southern football teams began play in the SoCon in 1993. Four years later, the conference seemed to take an athletic dip when powerful Marshall University left (to play in Division I-A) and Wofford moved up from Division II.
VMI left after the 2002 season, replaced by Elon to start 2003. East Tennessee State left after 2003. Samford joined in 2009.
The Southern Conference’s fate won’t end like poor Yorick’s skull — a graveyard remnant to be stared at and reminisced. Wofford proved to be a great fit and in time, competition in the new Southern Conference will level. But most of us who knew the league well can’t help but think of its happier times.
Donald Heath, Savannah Morning News