published Friday, March 29th, 2013

SoCon exits can greatly affect softball, wrestling

Following Wednesday's announcements that Appalachian State and Georgia Southern were leaving the Southern Conference for the Sun Belt, much of the ensuing discussion centered around what that meant for SoCon football and men's basketball.

While those sports will be affected and a facet of the search for new schools likely will include their potential contributions to football and men's basketball, other sports may be hit harder by the departures of ASU and GSU -- plus the College of Charleston last December.

The SoCon will drop from nine softball programs to six. Men's soccer and wrestling -- two sports that not every conference supports -- also will be hit. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern both play men's soccer, which the Sun Belt doesn't have. In addition, the Mountaineers have wrestling, another sport the Sun Belt doesn't have.

SoCon commissioner John Iamarino said he talked to App State athletic director Charlie Cobb on Monday about the possibility of associate membership. The SoCon already has several associated members in wrestling, such as VMI, Campbell and Gardner-Webb.

Iamarino said he "would be receptive to the idea," but ultimately it's up to the nine remaining institutions to decide. Those topics will be addressed the the May spring meetings, he said.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling coach Heath Eslinger said it's very important that the SoCon keep App State in wrestling.

"Wrestling is a unique sport," he said. "We're down to 77 schools [in Division I] and we need to battle for each other as much as possible. The best-case scenario for us is that they stay in their conference.

"We've continued to make strides over the last couple of years, and I don't want to lose our momentum."

Senior associate commissioner Geoff Cabe helps put together SoCon schedules. It's never an easy task putting all of the pieces together -- and it's not getting any easier.

"In today's collegiate conference environment, you've always got to be ready to tear up what you have and start again," Cabe said. "In a good year, with no membership changes, we probably go through about 10 different versions [of a schedule] until we get one that everyone feels fairly comfortable with."

The 2014 league football schedule was completed earlier this month, just in time for App State and Georgia Southern to confirm their long-speculated departures from the league.

"I'd gotten my first draft out and obviously that one now just goes in the shredder," Cabe said. "We'll start again when we know more information."

The same goes for all of the league's schedules beyond 2013-14. Until teams are officially added, likely in June -- UTC interim athletic director Laura Herron said she expected the SoCon to add three schools -- everything is on hold.

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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