Here is a May 19, 2006 article regarding USA South expansion (Div. III):
Published on Friday, May 19, 2006
By Michael N. Graff
When the old Dixie Conference changed its name to the USA South Athletic Conference in 2003, some league officials applauded the decision as a symbolic step toward becoming more inclusive.
Over the ensuing three years, the conference has lived up to that expectation, at least from a numbers standpoint. It’s added four members in some capacity and subtracted one provisional member, bringing the number of included to 11.
But the roll call tells only the partial story. Three of the additions, including Meredith College, which announced its intentions to join the league last week, are all-women’s colleges. And the other, Maryville (Tenn.) College, is a football-only member.
So while the USA South is building an impressive women’s arsenal, all of its men’s sports, except football, are teetering. If one coed school drops out or jumps to another conference, the non-football men’s sports would fall below seven participants, thus standing to lose their automatic bids in the NCAA Division III tournaments.
The situation is more tenuous considering Virginia and North Carolina, the only two states with ties to the USA South, are tapped out of Division III schools without a conference affiliation.
“Ideally, we’d like to have at least one more institution that is coed that would bring eight men’s teams to the conference,” said Rita Wiggs, commissioner of the USA South. “But at this point, there’s no institution on the radar for that.”
The league has swept up the single-gender women’s colleges in the region. In 2003, it added Peace College in Raleigh. Last year, it announced Mary Baldwin, of Staunton, Va., would join in 2007.
Meredith said last week it also would join in 2007.
“It’s not a thing where we’ve been actively seeking women’s colleges,” Wiggs said. “We are certainly receptive to institutions that might be interested in membership.”
David Smith, Methodist’s men’s basketball coach, said he would applaud more than one coed addition.
“We’d certainly like to have that security of that eighth school,” Smith said. “I don’t mind expansion. I’d love to have an eight or a ninth or a 10th.”
The fear of losing an automatic bid in football was one of the driving forces in acquiring Maryville as an eighth football school. Maryville started play in the conference last fall.
Methodist football coach Jim Sypult was on a visitation committee that first looked at adding Maryville.
“The automatic bid, that’s a sell for recruiting in Division III,” Sypult said. “To know that if you win the conference, they’ve got a chance to go, that would be a major problem in recruiting to lose that.”
If one of the schools does leave, the USA South will have a two-year grace period to add another institution, according to a new NCAA rule. And naturally, there will be no problem if all schools stay put.
Methodist Athletic Director Bob McEvoy said he believes the seven core institutions are solidified members for some time.
N.C. Wesleyan, Methodist, Greensboro, Christopher Newport, Averett, Ferrum and Shenandoah all have significant histories in the USA South/Dixie.
“I haven’t heard of any rumors or talk (of a breakaway school),” McEvoy said. “I feel confident we’ve got a solid group of seven coed institutions.”
Still, a departure certainly is not out of the question.
Shenandoah recently was presented with two options for conference affiliation. The Capital Athletic Conference and the Middle Atlantic States Collegiate Athletic Corporation approached the school during the past year.
But based on competition and travel needs, the Winchester, Va.-based university decided to stay with the USA South.
“We didn’t apply anywhere. People called us,” said Scott Musa, Shenandoah’s assistant athletic director for athletic communications. “We looked at it and we considered it. But we said the USA South was still the best fit for us.”
Chowan College appeared to be in the fold four years ago. But after a scattershot provisional period — which included the hiring of 80-year-old Lou Saban as football coach — the school was not voted in as a full-fledged member.
Wiggs said she recently has had conversations with LaGrange College and Piedmont College in Georgia, and Huntington College in Alabama.
But if those schools join, CNU and Shenandoah likely would have concerns over travel, or, worse, they could explore other conferences.
“They’re very good institutions and they have good athletic programs,” Wiggs said of LaGrange, Piedmont and Huntington. “But they’re a six-hour drive, minimum, for the southernmost institutions at this point.
“As I’ve found in life and in this job, that could change at any point. But right now, we don’t have any other institutions that we’re having conversations with.”
Staff writer Michael N. Graff can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3591.
Copyright 2006 The Fayetteville (NC) Observer