Behr: One final goodbye to the Southern Conference
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Appalachian State is in the Sun Belt Conference.
The App State athletic department got its wish Tuesday when July 1 finally rolled around. The move has been made.
I sincerely wish Appalachian State the best of luck in its new league. I was on the fence for a long time on this move, but feel that in the long run, it's the best thing for the university to make.
Change is always exciting. Some fear the new. Some embrace it.
Appalachian State has embraced the chance to the Sun Belt like it was an overgrown teddy bear.
But a final word, if I may, about the league the Mountaineers are leaving.
I've liked the Southern Conference ever since I arrived in Boone in September 1999.
Maybe I just like good athletics on all levels. I had covered the South Atlantic Conference for eight years as a beat writer covering Wingate University for the Enquirer-Journal in Monroe.
Covering Wingate was fun. It was competitive, exciting and there was a sense of community with the coaches and the players at the university.
I got the same feeling not just from Appalachian State, but from the other institutions in the SoCon. I made good friends with writers, sports information people, coaches and athletes in the SoCon.
I also had a good working relationship with the SoCon administration, including former commissioner Danny Morrison and current commissioner John Iamarino.
I love how most of the schools were within driving distance. Samford was a hike I made only once. Georgia Southern and the Charleston, S.C. schools are a bit of a drive, but not so bad with a small break in the middle.
Appalachian State played some memorable football during those times.
The first game I saw was when Eastern Kentucky visited Kidd Brewer Stadium on Sept. 11, 1999. A transfer from Georgia Military College named Troy Albea raced down the left sideline like a bullet fired from a Colt 45 and recovered a fumbled kickoff in the end zone.
I'd been on the job for four days and already had seen something I'd never seen in 10 years of sports writing.
App State won the game 34-20, Albea ended up signing a free agent deal with the Indianapolis Colts and I found out how good Division I football can be on the I-AA level.
App State has played some of the most exciting games I've ever seen on any level. It's great that the Mountaineers get to continue its rivalry with Georgia Southern.
Anybody who saw Armanti Edwards dive over the Eagles' defensive line for a winning touchdown in 2009, or see Jayson Foster run around and through the Mountaineers' defense in 2007 knows that big time talent played in the FCS Southern Conference.
The rivalries stretched to the nonconference games. App State's three games with James Madison were all instant classics.
The Mountaineers' first three against Montana are the same. The 2009 playoff games at Richmond and then the following week at Montana were as exciting as any on the FBS level.
The stakes may not have been as high as a BCS title game, but that didn't make them any less entertaining.
And Appalachian State can go up to Ann Arbor, Mich., and upset Michigan for a second time this fall, but it won't mean as much since the Mountaineers are an FBS team. The 34-32 shocker over the Wolverines is the biggest upset in college football history.
The fact that Appalachian State had just 63 SoCon scholarshiped players compared to Michigan's 85 Big 10 scholarshiped players on the roster only adds to the drama of the upset.
Those were great moments in the past, but that's where they are -- in the past. Appalachian State has a future to look after in the Sun Belt.
App State athletic director Charlie Cobb said one of his desires when considering the over to the FBS was to find regional rivals. While location can be a starting point for a rivalry, competitiveness makes it much more intense.
If Appalachian State challenges Arkansas State, or any other league opponent for the Sun Belt title over the next few years, the rivalry will follow. If the games are close, and include controversy, the rivalry will be heated.
If the future is as entertaining as the past, Mountaineer Nation has plenty to look forward to seeing.