When news of Davidson’s move from the Southern Conference to the Atlantic 10 broke on Tuesday, SoCon commissioner John Iamarino was surprised.
As Davidson made the move official Wednesday, Iamarino’s reaction had officially changed to “disappointed.”
“Davidson and the Southern Conference have been a good fit for many decades,” Iamarino said in a statement. “We’re disappointed in the administration’s decision to leave, but understand the dynamics of collegiate athletics have led to many decisions such as this one. We wish the Davidson athletic department well.”
These are tough times for the SoCon and Iamarino, weathering the loss of its top two football programs (App State and Georgia Southern) to the FBS Sun Belt, and arguably its top two basketball programs (definitely Davidson, and maybe College of Charleston, though Wofford might argue).
The SoCon should survive. After all, this is a league that once included much of the ACC and the SEC — and even Marshall. And the SoCon even made it through Davidson’s brief residency in the Big South back in the 1990s. (Fun times).
But the league won’t be the same.
I saw former Citadel, ETSU and N.C. State athletic director Les Robinson this morning, and he shook his head sadly.
“I hate all this stuff,” he said. “Not just for College of Charleston or The Citadel, but for everyone … Maryland, the ACC, across the nation. We’re losing so much.”
Some SoCon fans see a silver lining, a chance for an all-sports league, with all members taking part in scholarship football. The loss of Davidson and CofC leaves only UNC Greensboro as a non-football playing member. Prospective members ETSU, VMI and Mercer all are bringing their footballs with them, although it’s not clear when start-up programs at ETSU and Mercer will be ready for SoCon play.
But it’s clear that SoCon football — once celebrated as the “SEC of FCS” — will not be what it was, at least in the short term, without GSU and App State and their nine FCS titles.
Even with Davidson, SoCon basketball is a one-bid league already mired in the lower reaches of RPI. Mercer slides in neatly for CofC in hoops and baseball; VMI and ETSU won’t help much, but won’t hurt much either in in those two sports.
Now, the question of a fourth new member arises. Iamarino acknowledged last week that football-less UNC Asheville received consideration; maybe it will be reconsidered. Kennesaw State, another Atlantic Sun member with a football start-up, also could be a target. Heck, maybe even Coastal Carolina will make it onto the radar.
In the meantime, Davidson, winner of five of the last eight SoCon tournament titles, will get its shot on a bigger stage.
The A-10 ranked seventh in the nation in RPI last year in basketball (compared with 27 for the SoCon), and landed five teams in the NCAA Tournament, the sixth year in a row the league had earned at least three bids.
But at the same time, the Atlantic 10 is losing stalwarts such as Butler, Xavier, Temple and Charlotte. Davidson’s RPI of 65 last year would place it fifth among the A-10′s current lineup, behind St. Louis (17), VCU (26), LaSalle (34) and UMass (59).
Last year, Davidson turned down a chance to join C of C in the Colonial, citing increased travel costs and missed class time for athletes as a couple of reasons.
“A year ago, we felt like our crystal ball didn’t tell us enough to make a logical decision going forward,” athletic Jim Murphy said Wednesday. “Over the last several months, the Atlantic 10 has become an opportunity for us that didn’t exist a year ago. Waiting opened up our options, and we felt like the Atlantic 10 was an option we didn’t want to pass up.”
Somehow, the issue of class time did not come up at Davidson’s news conference today. Expenses will take care of themselves, Murphy said.
“The expenses will go up, when you look at travel and recruiting budgets and things like that,” Murphy said. “But at the same time, the revenue stream is there in the A-10 that will help us offset some of those costs.”
Murphy admitted it was tough to leave the SoCon.
“Our sentimental ties with the SoCon were tough to sever,” he said.
For SoCon fans, there is one small consolation — at least we got the Stephen Curry years.