published Saturday, May 25th, 2013

UTC committed to SoCon for now

UTC athletic director David Blackburn
UTC athletic director David Blackburn
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

David Blackburn spoke with confidence Friday when he was asked if the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga was still committed to the Southern Conference, the Mocs' home since 1976.

"We are," UTC's new athletic director said while sitting in his office.

On Thursday, Elon became the fifth school since December to announce its plans to leave what had been a 12-member conference since 2008. This is the first mass exodus from the 92-year-old SoCon since 1953, when seven schools -- Duke, North Carolina and Clemson among them -- left to form the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The SoCon membership for the 2014-15 academic year currently consists of seven full-time members: UTC, Furman, Wofford, Samford, Western Carolina, The Citadel and UNC Greensboro. If that group stays intact, Blackburn said, and the league votes in Mercer, East Tennessee State and VMI next week at the spring meetings, as expected, he feels good about the league moving forward.

"Hopefully we'll be able to stabilize with 10," he said, "and I think it would be wise for us to stabilize with 10 and try to see just how strong we can remain from there."

However, more turnover and uncertainty will force UTC to at least consider leaving.

"At some point in time, if it looks like those things aren't going to stabilize or there is more attrition," Backburn said, "then, as I've said before, our chancellor and myself, we have the burden to make sure that we keep options open for Chattanooga to remain healthy and vibrant in a league that wants us, looks like us and we can be successful in."

Some UTC fans are pushing for a move to the Ohio Valley Conference, as 12-member league that includes several potential rivals, including Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, UT-Martin and Jacksonville State.

Blackburn said he's heard from the pro-OVC crowd.

"It's certainly a quality league that I would assume would have some interest in someone like Chattanooga," he said. "Right now, we're not thinking that direction. We're thinking, stabilize the Southern Conference, remain in the Southern Conference and grow our stature within the Southern Conference.

"That's with the assumption that it's going to stabilize and be strong."

Blackburn said he's had "informal" conversations with officials from difference conferences, just "to gauge the landscape." He said there have been no formal conversations with other conferences.

Since the SoCon was founded in 1921, 43 schools have been full-time members. SoCon commissioner John Iamarino said Thursday that he was confidence that the remaining seven will stick around and provide some much-needed stability.

The remaining seven will decide the league's future during the spring meetings in Hilton Head, S.C. Iamarino said the membership vote likely will happen next Thursday.

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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