published Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

SoCon has new sense of urgency

Southern Conference Commissioner John Iamarino.
Southern Conference Commissioner John Iamarino.

At a minimum, Southern Conference commissioner John Iamarino wants "productive conversation" today when the league's athletic directors and presidents meet in Charlotte, N.C., to discuss membership options.

This will be the first meeting since Appalachian State and Georgia Southern announced late last month that they were headed to the Sun Belt Conference starting in 2014-15. Losing the two perennial football powers, as well as the College of Charleston, which is going to the Colonial Athletic Association this summer, leaves the SoCon with nine members (five private schools, four public).

"I hope that we will at least start the process of figuring out what the next steps are," Iamarino said Monday, "and come out of the meeting with the understanding that this is the direction it appears we're going to go."

No official voting on membership will be done, but informal voting may take place, which could lead to formal membership voting at the annual spring meeting in late May.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga interim athletic director Laura Herron will attend the meeting, and interim chancellor Grady Bogue will participate via conference call due to illness.

Bogue said Monday that the league needs to move quickly.

"Personally, consistent with good judgment, I think speed is of the essence here," Bogue said. "You don't want to look like a wounded league. ... I'm hoping that we'll have expedited action out of this."

The SoCon is losing three public schools and two of the top programs in the Football Championship Subdivision. It could add three schools or none or something in between. Expanding beyond three hasn't formally been discussed, but Bogue said he wouldn't be against giving it some consideration.

"I would be open to that," he said. "It does add strength to the conference, though it is going to add some organizational headaches."

Herron is optimistic about the league's diverse membership being able to come together.

"I foresee that at this meeting we will come to a consensus on the three schools, if that's the direction we're going in, that need to be invited," she said.

In adding schools, Herron said the SoCon needs to make sure its football needs are met, which means adding two teams to get the league back up to a nine-game schedule.

She's also very interested in the league adding more geographic balance. UTC and Samford, and to a lesser degree Western Carolina, are off on their own on the west side of the SoCon map. Also, the league is losing its only Georgia school.

Three of the schools often mentioned as candidates -- East Tennessee State, Kennesaw State and Mercer, all of which are starting or bringing back football -- are located within about a three-hour drive, or less, from UTC's campus.

Along with football needs, the SoCon has to look at its other sports. The SoCon is down to five men's soccer teams, six softball teams and seven in wrestling, with just three full-time members participating.

ETSU offers all of the sports the SoCon does except wrestling. Mercer has a full array of sports except wrestling, while Kennesaw State has all of the SoCon's women's sports but doesn't field wresting or men's soccer teams.

Virginia Military Institute, which wrestles in the SoCon, fields just three women's sports played in the SoCon.

Iamarino said he's expecting a long day of discussion, which could flow more freely with the departures of App State and GSU.

"Now that we have clarity on that, I'm hopeful that this will be the first meeting where we really can get everybody to lay their cards on the table and express what their priorities are," he said, "and see if there's enough common ground to move in the right direction, whatever that might be."

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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