In the FCS Huddle: Expect swift movement from Southern Conference

4:56 PM, Mar 27, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - He said it was purely by chance, but when Southern Conference commissioner John Iamarino looked into a mirror at work on Wednesday, he realized he was wearing a black sweater.

However fashionable Iamarino may have been, the color choice reflected the mood for much of the SoCon on the day Appalachian State and Georgia Southern announced they were leaving for the Sun Belt Conference and the Football Bowl Subdivision, effective July 1, 2014.

Two of the nation's premier Football Championship Subdivision programs - Georgia Southern has a record six national championships and Appalachian State ranks third with three - are irreplaceable for the SoCon, although that is the mission facing Iamarino and the remaining nine core member schools, seven of which have football programs.

ASU and GSU will keep their 2013 football schedules, but as they start their two-year FBS transition and move above the FCS scholarship limit of 63 - by at least a minimum of five - they will be ineligible for the SoCon title and a bid to the expanded 24-school playoffs.

Knowing the moves were coming, Iamarino has been proactive while the conference carousel keeps spinning out of control. He's had conversations with other schools about joining the SoCon. All on the quiet time, of course, in what he considers to be a distasteful, though sadly necessary, part of his job.

"Those of us who are among the 31 (Division I) commissioners, we can share with each other's concerns and problems, we understand what everybody goes through," Iamarino said. "Friendships develop over the years. And that kind of gets all thrown out the window when you have to do what you have to do. I wish the system would not make this necessary.

"I wish I could push a button where (NCAA president) Mark Emmert would say, 'Hey, this is not in the best interest of college athletics' - because it clearly isn't - 'we're going to put a five- or a 10-year moratorium on this.' The only way to do that would be for the association as a membership to say let's pick a date, an arbitrary date, whether it may be Jan. 1 of 2014, and anybody who wants to move, do it by then, and then after that, five years no movement, and let's see what happens. But of course, you're opening yourself up to lawsuits and the big conferences would never go for that. So it will never happen."

What's likely going to happen is Iamarino and the SoCon will raid other conferences the way theirs has been raided. Their losses include the impending departure of the College of Charleston to the Colonial Athletic Association for the start of the 2013-14 school year.

Davidson, Elon and Furman listened to the CAA as well, and remained behind, although Iamarino realizes there is no guarantee they won't up and leave the SoCon anyway. North Carolina-Greensboro, like Davidson, doesn't sponsor football, but Chattanooga, Samford, The Citadel, Western Carolina and Wofford do, giving the conference seven football members for 2014 after Appalachian State and Georgia Southern depart.

That's not enough in Iamarino's eyes. It's time to make some moves.

"It would be my recommendation and will be my recommendation to the membership that we need an identity expansion that would increase our numbers for 2014-15," he said, "but, again, these decisions are made by the athletic directors and then ultimately approved by the presidents and chancellors.

"We have quietly been contacted by, as I said the other day, enough schools to fill a brand new conference," he said. "We will have quality options I think available to us, whether we decide to expand to 10, 12, 14 (members), whatever the number might be and whenever that occurs."

The SoCon athletic directors have meetings planned for next month as well as in May. Expect swift action.

The conference likely wants to keep a footprint in Georgia, a fertile ground for basketball as much as football, and the obvious options are the Mercer University program that begins play this year, but without scholarships, and Kennesaw State, which will be a scholarship program in 2015.

Coastal Carolina and VMI, a former SoCon member, are options from the Big South Conference, and East Tennessee State, another former SoCon member, has been considered a candidate, although it no longer has a football program. Iamarino said the conference is not looking at institutions below the Division I level.

No matter the options, all are serious downgrades from ASU and GSU in football, yet the Southern Conference has no choice but to pick up the pieces as best as possible.

"The flip side is at some point in the near future," Iamarino said, "I hope, we'll be able to have a press conference where I'm welcoming people into the conference and where everybody's got smiles on their faces. People will be saying what a great privilege it will be to be in the Southern Conference.

"This league has historically been able to reinvent itself. I'm sure it was pretty bleak when Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee decided they were leaving. And then 20 years after that, when North Carolina, Duke and Maryland said we're starting a new league. We'll be fine, we're going to bounce back. I have every reason to believe that the Southern Conference will be a viable Division I conference for many years to come."

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