published Saturday, July 21st, 2012

Southern Conference meetings produce candid talk, no decision

Southern Conference commissioner John Iamarino and the top brass at the league's 12 institutions met in Charlotte on Friday to discuss what they've been discussing for months: what to do if and when the wave of conference realignment finally hits the SoCon.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga chancellor Roger Brown said the league presidents and chancellors met for four hours. There was much discussion, he said, but little progress.

"We spent four hours discussing all kinds of scenarios of membership, and we came to no real decision," Brown said. "I think the commissioner was quite disappointed."

The whole situation, Brown said, "is frustrating for everyone involved." He said the consensus among the presidents is that the best scenario "would be for the current 12 schools to remain members of the SoCon."

Iamarino said he would not go into any details about the content of Friday's talks but characterized them as "candid and honest and at times awkward." All good things, he said.

"I see the candid discussions that have been taking place the last three times we've met as productive, because you can't dance around certain issues," Iamarino said. "In the past maybe [the presidents] have avoided stepping on each other's toes, but the circumstances call for the kind of honesty and openness that we had today."

The Colonial Athletic Association is looking to fill some holes due to the announced departures of Virginia Commonwealth, Georgia State and Old Dominion. Among the schools the CAA is known to be targeting are the College of Charleston and Davidson.

Georgia Southern athletic director Sam Baker told the Statesboro (Ga.) Herald recently that both schools had received invitations to join the CAA. Baker also said that GSU would not be trying to move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision any time soon, whereas Appalachian State has been outspoken about that for about a year.

"We don't think any SoCon school at this moment has made a decision to leave us," Brown said, "and therefore the rest of us are sort of stuck with what our next move might be when and if someone does accept."

According to several published reports, CAA commissioner Tom Yeager would like to have new members lined up by the end of the summer and ready to compete in the league by 2013-14.

To leave the SoCon with less than two years' notice will cost a departing school $600,000. The exit fee is half that if more than two years' notice is given.

Because three of the 12 SoCon schools (Davidson, College of Charleston and UNC Greensboro) don't play football in the league, finding replacements for departing schools isn't a simple equation. The league's nine football-playing schools play eight-game conference schedules — an ideal number that allows everyone to play everyone else and have multiple nonconference games.

If Charleston or Davidson leaves, the inclination may be to bring in a school that also doesn't play football so the balance isn't thrown out of whack.

"We chased all the possible permutations," Brown said of Friday's meeting, "and every time we came back to the same place where we started."

The topic of possible conference realignment, and the SoCon's reaction to it, have dominated league meetings for a long time. Is there a finish line in sight?

"I'm not sure I can really react to that question," Iamarino said with a laugh.

Brown said the SoCon "CEOs" are scheduled to meet again on Nov. 14. It remains to be seen if circumstances will bring them together sooner.

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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