published Thursday, March 17th, 2011

SoCon waiting on App State’s decision

The Southern Conference has never looked the same for long. In its 90-year history, dozens of teams have come and gone.

Some stayed only a few years, while others have called it home for decades.

At present there are 12 member schools, including nine that play football in the SoCon. But that might not be the case much longer.

Appalachian State is conducting a feasibility study to determine if moving from the Football Championship Subdivision up to the bowl subdivision makes sense. ASU athletic director Charlie Cobb said Wednesday that the ongoing study doesn’t yet have a clear outcome.

At present, he said, ASU’s 10-member feasibility study committee is working on the financial consequences of a move to the FBS.

“What we’re in the middle of is trying to identify what those numbers are and where the revenue would come from,” Cobb said. “It’s easy to spend money; the difficult part, especially in this day and age, is to identify the revenues and where that money would come from, and how reliable it would be over a period of time.”

Once the numbers have been crunched, Cobb said the next step “is to see if this is really what we want to do. And if it is, then are there opportunities for us?”

Despite a lot of rumors, Cobb said Appalachian State is not definitely leaving the SoCon for Conference USA or any other league when the NCAA’s moratorium on changing divisions expires in August.

“There are no offers on the table,” Cobb said.

Appalachian State won three straight FCS national titles from 2005-07, has won outright or shared the past six SoCon championships and its 2010 average home attendance of 25,715 was first among FCS programs and No. 82 in all of Division I.

The NCAA now mandates that programs must have an invitation from a conference before moving up a level. That means ASU isn’t going anywhere unless is has somewhere to go.

If Appalachian State, or anyone else, does leave, there are financial consequences. The departing school has to pay the SoCon $150,000 if it gives two year’s notice or $300,000 if the school gives less than two year’s notice, SoCon commissioner John Iamarino said.

“Those basically are fees that we’re going to use to do what we have to do to either court another institution or change schedules,” Iamarino said. “There’s always going to be ramifications for somebody leaving.”

Finding a replacement for ASU wouldn’t be too difficult, Iamarino said.

“I do think this league has any number of institutions that would love to join it — existing Division I programs, not [Division II] programs that want to move up,” he said.

Adding a program requires a two-thirds majority of the SoCon executive committee, which means eight of the 11 remaining schools would have to approve the nominated institution. There’s also a buy-in fee, which Iamarino said was $500,000 when Samford joined the SoCon in 2008.

Over the years 42 schools, not all of them with football, have called the SoCon home. The last to leave was East Tennessee State — now in the Atlantic Sun — which had to go after shutting down its football program in 2003.

Without naming names, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director Rick Hart said there’s “probably three or four or five schools” that would be likely candidates to replace Appalachian State if it decides to leave.

One school that isn’t looking to move up at this time is UTC.

“It’s not a listed goal today for our program,” he said, “However, like anything, you’ve got to keep an eye on the horizon and we are.”

Cobb said he expects “some type of recommendation” to come out of the feasibility study committee’s monthly meeting in May, and that recommendation will go to Chancellor Kenneth Peacock, who will make his recommendation to the ASU Board of Trustees in June.

“We’ve learned a couple of things already,” Cobb said of the study. “One, it’s not a matter of can we make the move? The bigger question is should we make the move? Honestly, that’s the much more important, much deeper question.”

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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