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Originally published: 2013-03-30 23:53:38
Last modified: 2013-03-30 23:54:18

Southern Conference weighs its options

by Steve Behr Sports Editor

The Southern Conference started the 2012-13 academic sports season with 12 athletic programs. As of Wednesday, the league is down to nine.
It’s up toSoCon commissioner John Iamarino and the remaining chancellors to rebuild the SoCon.
The league lost Appalachian State and Georgia Southern to the Sun Belt Conference on Wednesday. In Nov., 2012, the SoCon also lost College of Charleston to the Colonial Athletic Association.
Iamarino said it is never easy to lose a program to another league, but feels getting other programs to join the conference should not be all that difficult.
He said there have been numerous inquiries from programs joining the conference.
“I feel very good about the options that are available to the SoCon,” Iamarino said. “Quietly we’ve been contacted by enough schools to fill a brand new conference. We’ll have quality options available to us. We have to decide if we want to expand to 10 or 12 or 14 or whatever occurs. I feel good about the future of our conference.”
There has not been much movement in the SoCon during the past 10 years. Elon was brought in to replace East Tennessee State in 2003 after ETSU dropped football.
Samford was brought in to replace VMI in 2008 after VMI left for the Big South.
Appalachian State and Georgia Southern get one more round in the Southern Conference. Neither school will be eligible for the FCS playoffs because both have to add scholarship players to meet requirements for joining an FBS league.
FCS teams offer 63 scholarships to its football players, but FBS teams offer 85. Should either Appalachian State or Georgia Southern finish with the top league record in the SoCon, they won’t receive the league’s automatic berth.
Instead, the team that finishes with the next best record gets the automatic berth. Iamarino said all of the statistics and any awards earned will be honored by the SoCon.
“All of the games will count,” Iamarino said. “All teams will play an eight-game (conference) schedule. The team that is eligible that finishes with the best overall record will be the automatic qualifier.”

For the 2014 season, the current seven SoCon football teams include Chattanooga, The Citadel, Elon, Furman, Samford, Western Carolina and Wofford. Iamarino did not indicate which programs have shown interest in moving to the SoCon.

He added that Division II teams looking to move up to Division I are not being considered.

“I can assure you that we are not looking at D-II programs,” Iamarino said. “There are a number of Division I programs who have contacted me, but we’re not looking at Division II.”

Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will be eligible for NCAA berths in all of the other sports since they have the same scholarship rules as the other SoCon and NCAA teams.

Iamarino felt optimistic that the Southern Conference would survive the recent defections.

“I feel we have a bright future,” he said. “The league has historically had to reinvent itself. I’m sure it looked bleak when Alabama and Auburn and Tennessee decided on leaving and I’m sure it was the same when North Carolina and Duke and Maryland left to start a new league. We’ll be fine.”