Latest shuffling of conferences only blurs the possibilities

mlough@macon.comMay 10, 2013 

We can go back to 2010 to see when the moves started, but really thank Texas, ESPN and the Longhorn Network -- and the people in charge -- for this mess going coast to coast.

The latest chapter of greed, inability to read a map, inconsideration for fans, short-sightedness, greed and general silliness of decision-makers has trickled down to these parts, even more so now with the departure of Davidson from the Southern Conference.

First, let’s review.

The Southern Conference lost one of its top basketball programs in December when College of Charleston decided to gamble and move to the Atlantic 10.

College of Charleston has six postseason bids (one NCAA, two NIT and three College Basketball Invitational) since leaving the A-Sun after 1997-98, a nice résumé but not overwhelming.

The Southern Conference lost its top two football programs, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, in March.

In a day, the Southern Conference went from a top-two FCS conference to the middle of the 13-conference FCS field, losing a chunk of the conference’s overall identity.

Wofford, which joined the Southern Conference in 1997, becomes the standard-bearer. The only other remaining football program to make the playoffs is Furman in 2005.

The Southern Conference started planning, although some thought it might be premature.

On Wednesday, another shoe dropped with the announced departure of the conference’s top men’s basketball program, Davidson.

Save for the 3-1 NCAA tournament run in 2008, Davidson is one and done since 2000 in six other trips, 3-2 in two NITs and 1-1 in the College Basketball Invitational. But it has won more Southern Conference tournaments than anybody else, 12.

Three of the four departures (Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and College of Charleston) definitely weaken the baseball conference. Appalachian State is on a run in women’s basketball, but the other three are part of a balanced middling group.

Four programs bolting since December, decisions that all are open to massive second-guessing. And clearly, there are more to come this month.

And now, the Southern Conference is in a bigger scramble mode than the A-Sun, for the most part, has ever faced.

The A-Sun did come close to losing its NCAA men’s tournament automatic bid for a year less than a decade ago, when a conference had to have six schools with five years in the conference, but it didn’t come to that.

The Southern Conference isn’t in that situation but is in a rush to make moves primarily for football scheduling, because, of course, the sport must be planned a generation in advance until a TV network calls four months before a kickoff.

The conference might have reacted a little too quickly in the first place, and thus some schools are likely to act too quickly. And Davidson’s move swings the door wide open again.

Schools and conferences have been botching the whole process since Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech left the Big East for the ACC and became experts at it following the mess in Texas.

Now, it’s in our neighborhood.

While it no doubt has its issues -- as, clearly, most conferences do -- the A-Sun on this day is a better conference than the Southern Conference.

It doesn’t make it great, or at its potential, or that there isn’t a way to go in some areas.

But take the aforementioned situation into consideration as well as Florida Gulf Coast’s NCAA tournament run and accompanying trickle-down attention, what Mercer’s baseball team is capable of in May and perhaps June and ever-so-slowly improving women’s basketball, and it’s improving.

Florida Gulf Coast made a splash, which might have miffed those it passed. Still, yes, the A-Sun has issues, as pointed out by who is responsible for those issues: presidents and athletics directors of the member schools.

A look in the mirror after they whine about the conference wouldn’t hurt.

A conference is only as good as its members make it. Presidents and ADs do the hiring and firing, approve budgets, make the facilities decisions, formulate marketing, mandate scheduling and determine salaries of coaches and staffs.

And boy, do some of those presidents and ADs make absolutely fascinating decisions, with more to come.

Despite public proclamations and private conversations regarding nearly every conference move of the past three years, options aren’t what they seem. Nothing is as clear or simple or obvious as portrayed, whether the home office is Spartanburg, Birmingham, Macon, Greensboro or Dallas.

And more reminders are coming.

Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626 or mlough@macon.com

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