published Friday, May 31st, 2013

SoCon expects to hold steady at 10 schools

The Southern Conference didn't rush to add members once the dominoes began falling and schools began announcing that they were leaving what had been a 12-member league since 2008. The SoCon took its time and made sure it found the schools it actually wanted, and who wanted to join the SoCon.

Following Thursday's announced addition of three members -- Mercer, East Tennessee State and Virginia Military Institute -- the SoCon won't be hurrying to move beyond the 10 members it will have when the 2014-15 academic year begins.

"I anticipate it will stay at 10 for a little while," University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director David Blackburn said. "I think we're all comfortable staying at 10 and making sure that we develop some quality and further cohesiveness before we just go out and land grab."

Both Blackburn and commissioner John Iamarino said the numbers aren't the most important thing right now.

"It's getting the right group of schools," Iamarino said. "And we feel like we've got the right group right now."

That doesn't mean the SoCon won't be paying attention as conference realignment continues. If the right opportunities come along in the coming years, and growth seems like the right thing for the league, the possibility exists for more teams to join.

"We've just talked about making sure we do what makes the most sense for the Southern Conference, and I think right now that's making sure we do the best job of integrating the new members," Furman athletic director Gary Clark said. "But we're always going to be keeping our eyes open and constantly planning and talking strategically."

For the 2014 and '15 football seasons the SoCon will have eight football-playing members. ETSU won't begin play until 2016, so scheduling in those two seasons will leave SoCon teams with unbalanced schedules and either three or four conference home games.

UTC was scheduled to host departing members Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Elon in 2014, along with Samford. Blackburn said the plan now is to do away with the current schedule rotations and start from scratch for 2014 and '15.

"It's the right thing to do for everybody," Blackburn said. "It wasn't going to be fair to keep things the same."

Before the spring meetings wrap up today, there is a little more business to tend to. The league must still decide whether departing schools will be allowed to host SoCon tournaments in the 2013-14 school year.

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.

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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