Here is UTC's projected schedule following the departures of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern. The Mocs were supposed to host ASU and GSU, so they need to add two home games, either new SoCon teams or nonconference opponents:
Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, which are leaving the Southern Conference after the 2013-14 academic year, might have played their last football games in Chattanooga. Here are the top six crowds to attend a UTC game at Finley Stadium:
Attendance // Opponent // Date
1. 22,642 // Tennessee State // Oct. 18, 1997
2. 17,414 // Georgia Southern // Oct. 16, 2010
3. 15,235 // Appalachian State // Sept. 4, 2010
4. 15,072 // Georgia Southern // Sept. 23, 2000
5. 14,002 // Glenville State // Sept. 3, 2009
6. 13,726 // Appalachian State // Sept. 22, 2012
When Georgia Southern and Appalachian State made it official last month that they were leaving the Southern Conference for the Sun Belt, it put the SoCon's 2014 football schedule in disarray.
With nine teams, it had a tidy eight-game league schedule. Four home, four away and three nonconference games in the typical 11-game season.
The SoCon now has seven teams for 2014 heading into next month's spring meetings, during which the league is expected to vote on new members. If those additions are ready to play in the SoCon right away, then all the league must do is create new eight-game schedules for everyone.
But what happens if the league doesn't have nine teams ready to play SoCon ball in the fall of 2014? If the league schedule is less than eight games, UTC and the rest of the members will have to scramble to find nonconference games to fill out the schedule.
"I think we've got to get through the Southern Conference meetings and then we're either OK or it's a mad dash to figure it out," University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman said last week. "I don't know if you can figure it out right now."
Huesman is concerned that App State and Georgia Southern were two of UTC's five scheduled home opponents for 2014, which means right now the Mocs have three scheduled home games -- two SoCon opponents (likely Samford and Elon, based on current rotations) and Georgia State. The road schedule includes trips to Tennessee, Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech (which replaced UT-Martin).
Even though Georgia State is headed to the Sun Belt in the fall, UTC senior associate athletic director Matt Pope said the Panthers are still slated to play at Finley Stadium in 2014, in the second half of the home-and-home agreement that was signed before Georgia State joined the Sun Belt.
Pope said the contract with Georgia State can be voided if either team changes conferences. However, since the Mocs are playing the Panthers in 2013 -- indicating that the conference switch wasn't an issue -- Georgia State can't back out of the 2014 game for that reason. If the Panthers back out after playing UTC in 2013, they will owe UTC $250,000, Pope said.
For UTC, and almost every remaining SoCon school, losing App State and Georgia Southern from the football schedule means more than just having to find new opponents. It's also a box-office blow. Fans show up in greater numbers when the two SoCon and Football Championship Subdivision powers come to town.
Of the six largest crowds to attend a UTC game at Finley Stadium, four watched Georgia Southern or App State games.
No matter who the SoCon brings in, the new additions likely won't draw crowds the way the Eagles and Mountaineers did. Finley Stadium executive director Merrill Eckstein said he hated to see those schools go because those games were well attended, but losing them won't "put a major dent" in the stadium's financial situation.
"We've gotten ourselves in a position now where we are in the black and we're not suddenly going to be in trouble because those two teams are no longer in the conference," Eckstein said. "The only way we're in trouble is if we go back to the old days when we had games where there were 1,500 sitting watching a Mocs game."
That's unlikely to happen any time soon. UTC should be one of the favorites to win the SoCon this coming season and in 2014.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.