heres an article on coastal and the socon
From the Myrtle Beach Sun News...
Posted on Sun, May. 30, 2004
Courting the SoCon
Coastal Carolina, a charter member of the Big South, is building its case to be considered for Southern Conference membership
By Melinda Waldrop
The Sun News
The courtship has officially begun.
Long-circulating rumors that Coastal Carolina University is interested in moving from the Big South Conference to the Southern Conference have been given credence by a six-page informational brochure Coastal has mailed to Southern Conference institutions.
Titled "The Case," with a picture of CCU's new football stadium on the cover, the glossy pages provide an introduction to Coastal and the Myrtle Beach area and offer comparisons between Coastal's athletic revenues and expenditures and Southern Conference averages.
"The packets are an information-gathering piece," CCU athletic director Warren Koegel said. "[People] can read about what Coastal's doing, not just athletically but academically and financially."
The brochures were only sent to Southern Conference schools, Koegel said.
The 83-year-old Southern Conference, which gave birth to present-day Atlantic Coast and Southeastern Conference powers, consists of larger, more established schools than the Big South, which was founded in 1983.
Those schools are also geographically closer to Coastal, an average of 228 miles from Conway, compared to 277 for Big South schools. Excluding East Tennessee State, which will be leaving the conference after the 2004-05 academic year, two of the 11 Southern Conference members are more than 300 miles away, whereas four of the other eight full Big South members are more than 300 miles from Conway, including Birmingham-Southern, 490 miles away in Alabama.
"I think the Southern, honestly, is a better fit for our fans, our community, our school geographically," CCU men's basketball coach Pete Strickland said. "[It's] a league that our fans and our residents here identify with, because those are schools that our residents went to. And the travel's saner, [and] the rivalries are more real."
The topic of transferring conferences heated up with CCU's addition of a football program in 2003 and the folding of football at East Tennessee State, which is the reason for the school's departure from the SoCon, as the Southern Conference is commonly known.
"[Football] drives [the Southern] Conference," CCU football coach David Bennett said. " ... You've got teams in that that have had football teams for over 100 years."
Steve Shutt, Southern Conference associate commissioner, said the league has no timetable for replacing East Tennessee, if it decides to do so. And Koegel stressed that all communications between CCU and the Southern Conference are preliminary.
"Any time you're in business, you've got to look at opportunity," Koegel said. "We're very happy right now in the Big South Conference, but [is] there another conference out there that might be a better fit for us someday? I don't know that."
The recent history of a former rival, however, may offer some insight as Coastal searches for that answer.
Making the move
Elon University's stay in the Big South Conference was a brief one.
After two provisional years of membership, the school near Burlington, N.C., became an official member of the Big South in the 1999-2000 season. But in May of 2002, Elon was offered and accepted membership in the Southern Conference, and played its first season in its new league in 2003-04.
"The Southern Conference is a very old, historic, prestigious league, comprised of some first-rate institutions," Elon athletic director Alan White said. "We feel like it's been a good move for Elon University."
It was a move spurred by football, which Elon has played since 1909. The Phoenix felt constrained competing in the Big South, which has five football-playing members.
The regular-season champions of Division I-AA conferences with at least six teams qualify for consideration for an automatic postseason bid, while those in leagues without the minimum number or playing as independents must put together superlative seasons to earn a possible at-large berth.
"[Football] is an important element of our program, so without sufficient numbers of schools playing football in the Big South, certainly [switching conferences] was good for us," White said.
The numbers game also impacts Big South football programs in other ways. With just four other league members, teams are often left to scramble to fill late-season schedule slots that, in a larger league, would be occupied by conference contests.
"Normally, if you're in a conference, your last seven or eight games are locked in," Bennett said. "The first three or four dates is what you're trying to fill. We've got dates here and dates there [to fill]."
But while finding a better fit for its football team may have been the impetus behind Elon's relocation, it's not the only sport that has benefited from the move.
Brenda Paul, Elon women's basketball coach for a decade, said playing in the Southern Conference creates rivalries with nearby schools such as UNC Greensboro and puts her program into a league with a higher RPI - a fact that has not gone unnoticed by potential recruits.
"The kids are aware of that," she said. "Now they know you're playing a higher competition. ... I thought the Big South was very competitive, too. I just think that if you've got a football program, it's tough to be out in the middle of nowhere land."
The process of change White said Elon made its interest in the Southern Conference known in an "informal approach," providing the league with information much like Coastal is doing now.
Eventually, SoCon officials visited the campus and extended an expansion invitation - the league's first since 1999, Shutt said.
Shutt said that if the SoCon decides to expand again, it will consider three key factors: a school's football program; its "geographical footprint," or proximity to present members; and its athletic and academic tradition.
The packet CCU sent to SoCon members notes Coastal's 55-28-2 record against Southern Conference teams in the 2002-03 season, mentions various athletic and academic honors earned by student-athletes, and estimates the school spent $650,000 on a football team that went 6-5 in its inaugural season.
If the league's 12-member executive committee, made up of faculty athletic representatives, decides to consider an institution, league officials will visit that school. They will then make a recommendation to the executive committee, and nine of its members must vote to extend an invitation.
But Shutt, who said he hasn't seen the information packets sent out by Coastal and wouldn't comment on CCU specifically, said the league isn't in any hurry to find a 12th member. He cited the Big Ten and other conferences as leagues that succeed with 11.
"The 11-member [situation] doesn't scare us," Shutt said. "There's some good models for us to follow. But if our membership finds an institution that meets all of those drivers, then we'll see what happens."
The next steps
The Big South, though, isn't willing to concede its football-playing members to other conferences.
Though declining to mention specific schools, conference commissioner Kyle Kallander said the league continues to talk to prospective members and hopes to add more football programs in "the near future."
"Our focus has to be on providing the best opportunities for our members, and part of that certainly is getting to a minimum of six football members so we can become eligible for an automatic [playoff] bid," Kallander said. "I'm very aware that unless we're able to do that, institutions have to be concerned."
Kallander said there isn't an overwhelming number of Division I-AA schools playing football independently or in other conferences that fit into the Big South's academic, athletic, geographical and marketing criteria. But he said there is interest in the league, as its members show a commitment to football by upgrading facilities and financing more scholarships.
"That's the reason for my optimism," Kallander said. "I really feel like we're doing some good things here. ... We want to grow the conference and get larger, and we believe that's going to happen."
If a school does decide to leave the Big South, it is required to give two years' notice or face penalties.
Bennett, whose football team went 1-3 in its inaugural Big South season, said his program has to make strides in its present conference before moving to another.
"I'd just like to see us do well in the Big South right now, [but] if [the Southern Conference] is the direction that we go, I'll be all for it," Bennett said. " ... I don't know when that would happen, if it would happen. I know it's being looked at."
And that action alone has raised questions Bennett, and perhaps his Big South counterparts, would like answered.
"What's the ambition of the Big South?" Bennett said. "Do you want to keep schools like Coastal? Do you want to expand? Or are you going to sit right here and hope it makes it?"
Contact MELINDA WALDROP at (843) 444-1767 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.