All along, the three most likely additions were Atlantic Sun member Mercer and former SoCon members East Tennessee State and VMI. John Frierson of the Chattanooga Times-Free press reported today that league presidents have chosen those three schools for campus visits that will take place before SoCon spring meetings in Hilton head at the end of the month.
Randy King of Roanoke.com had a similar story today.
The campus visits are the next step in a process that will likely result in invitations and then announcements, probably by early this summer.
Commissioner John Iamarino has had to work hard to bring the league to this point, bridging the apparent divides between the SoCon’s public and private schools, and football and non-football schools.
The three new members will bring the league back to 12 members — provided that Davidson does not head to the Atlantic 10, as rumored — but will not immediately restore SoCon football to its former glory.
VMI left the SoCon in 2003, largely because the Keydets could not compete in football. They have not made much progress in the Big South; then again, the Keydets won’t have to play GSU and App any longer.
Mercer and ETSU are starting up football programs after lengthy absences. Mercer, led by ex-Furman coach Bobby Lamb, will play non-scholarship football in the Patriot League next season. ETSU, with ex-Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer on board as as “football expert,” expects to begin play again in 2015, hopefully not in the dreaded “Buc Dome.”
I think these three schools are about as good as the SoCon could do while balancing academic and athletic priorities among its public and private schools. Mercer is a private school with a solid reputation and good baseball and basketball programs. ETSU can compete in SoCon baseball (led by ex-Citadel CWS hero Tony Skole) and basketball. VMI is the biggest reach, but has solid support from The Citadel and is a school the SoCon’s public and private schools can agree on.
A remaining question is whether these additions will sway Davidson at all as the Wildcats weigh reported interest from the Atlantic 10. The additions can’t hurt, as they demonstrate that the SoCon remains a league that at least some schools want to be in. But if Davidson is ready to take the leap into the (much) deeper pool that is the A-10, I can’t see this as deciding factor.