Adding proven contenders could end SoCon's one-bid status

Adding proven contenders could end SoCon's one-bid status

March 8th, 2017 by Gene Henley in Sports - College

A good portion of the talk during the Southern Conference basketball tournament centered around a team that wasn't in attendance in Asheville, N.C.

That talk included rumors of a possible future addition to the league, which could help the SoCon potentially become a multi-bid league in regard to NCAA basketball tournaments.

The conference announced in January that Belmont would be joining the league in men's soccer. Coaches from multiple SoCon teams think that could lead to the Bruins becoming a full-fledged member.

The Nashville-based Bruins have made six consecutive basketball postseason appearances (either NCAA or National Invitationa Tournament). They've won 20 games in 11 of the last 12 seasons and are 22-6 this year after a 65-59 loss to Jacksonville State in the Ohio Valley Conference semifinals.

Belmont secured at least an NIT bid by winning the OVC regular-season title.

If it joined the SoCon, it would make an improved basketball conference even more competitive. Five SoCon teams — East Tennessee State, Furman, UNC Greensboro, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Samford — won at least 19 games this season. ETSU, Furman, UNCG, UTC and Wofford won at least 10 in league play.

Steve Forbes, coach of the SoCon champion ETSU Buccaneers, said recently that to become a multi-bid league the SoCon must schedule better nonconference competition — and win. Only the Bucs and UTC defeated Power Five teams this season, with the Bucs defeating Mississippi State and the Mocs beating Tennessee.

If Belmont were to join in basketball, the SoCon would need a 12th member to keep an even number of teams. The New Jersey Institute of Technology, which currently competes in the Atlantic Sun, could be affiliating with the SoCon in men's lacrosse at a future time, but from a travel standpoint that addition wouldn't make sense for other sports.

Maybe the league could kick the tires of a possible return of College of Charleston. The Cougars previously were a SoCon member but moved to the Colonial Athletic Association in 2013. The Cougars won 25 games this season and are a likely NIT candidate.

The additions of Belmont and College of Charleston would make the SoCon formidable, a possible top-10 league in RPI. It could go back to divisions, which it had until the 2013-14 season. Travel partners would also become easier with the following possibilities: UTC-Belmont; Mercer-Samford; College of Charleston-The Citadel; ETSU-Western Carolina; Wofford-Furman; UNCG-Virginia Military Institute

The women's side would also become stronger. Belmont just rolled to the OVC championship with an unblemished record in league play, and while the Charleston women won only nine games, their addition would give the league 10 basketball-playing members.

While neither Belmont nor College of Charleston plays football, the SoCon currently has nine football-playing members and is considered one of the best conferences in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Could it happen? Maybe it's nothing more than speculation at this point, but there could come a time when a 25-win UNCG, a 25-win College of Charleston or a 22-win Belmont would be bubble teams for the NCAA tournament, rather than merely high seeds for the NIT.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.