Conference alignment: Can the A-Sun and Big South make some trades?

Macon TelegraphJune 11, 2013 

                A few months ago, as some of the conference speculation in our neighborhood began to pick up steam, a proposal was made to Atlantic Sun commissioner Ted Gumbart - by an observing sportswriter - about merging the football schools of the Big South and A-Sun.

                The A-Sun football teams, active and immediate future, were Pioneer Football League members, thus non-scholarship, although there was plenty of scholarship talk at Mercer and Jacksonville.

                Plus, Kennesaw State and East Tennessee State were going to start and re-start football.

                The Atlantic Sun is a better conference overall than the Big South, which isn't that old. A football merger would allow for a lot of things, including the schools remaining in their home conference in everything else.

                A-Sun commish Ted Gumbart said without saying that some version of such a proposal was a possibility. Translation: yeah, folks are talking about it.

                Of course, all sorts of things have happened since that casual proposal in early March.

                What's changed: The A-Sun was a better conference three months ago than the Big South, but losing a pair of warm bodies drops it a notch.

                The idea is still a lucid thought.

                But as the fan keeps getting hit with the insanity of conferences and teams and decision-makers and shuffling and negotiations and all that, it's time for a new proposal.

                The Atlantic Sun and the Big South get together and swap some schools, become a pair of 10-team conferences, and form a football alliance.

                They could actually keep the names, although the Big South would have less South than it does now.

 

New Big South

Campbell

East Tennessee State

Gardner-Webb

High Point

Liberty

Lipscomb

Longwood

Northern Kentucky

Radford

VMI

UNC Asheville

 

New Atlantic Sun

Charleston Southern

Coastal Carolina

Florida Gulf Coast

Jacksonville

Kennesaw State

Mercer

North Florida

Presbyterian

Stetson

USC Upstate

Winthrop

 

                The Big South is eight Big South, two A-Sun and the A-Sun is six A-Sun, four Big South.

                The New Big South (NBS) allows for the Virginia schools to stay together, and gives Northern Kentucky - for however long it's around - some reasonably close road games.

                It also allows for the resumptions of some old rivalries with the mountain schools.

                The New A-Sun (NAS) does split up the Carolinas, but is even a better geographic footprint with long road trips only to Stetson and FGCU.

                Mercer, for example, would have had two conference opponents that are more than five hours away, FGCU and Stetson. And those two schools would be able to drive everywhere, with six FGCU opponents being 10 hours or less away.

                There's only one school a chunk bigger than most others, Kennesaw State, but that hasn't been any kind of competitive advantage.

                What the two conferences would do is have a scheduling agreement for a few games per school. It'll rotate, but if a school has a serious rival from the other conference - although that doesn't appear to be the case much, looking at this breakdown - that's part of the equation.

                Otherwise, the schedule rotation is done by a drawing.

                We might have to make an exception for Northern Kentucky and Florida Gulf Coast because of their locations at the extreme ends of the footprint. And then that would be one per league that's exempt.

                Basketball has potential to grow quickly with the improved geography for both conferences, and it would be pretty easy for some rivalries to form and to grow. As it is, the NAS would be stronger, but North eventually improves from improved geography, thus attendance.

                The leagues are similar in women's hoops, and both new leagues would be better, again for the same reasons as the men.

                The A-Sun is stronger in softball, and both "new" conferences would be very good with the trades.

                Baseball would be better in the NAS with Coastal Carolina and the Florida schools, and an improving USC Upstate.

                What about football? It's just as simple.

 

Charleston Southern

Coastal Carolina

ETSU

Gardner-Webb

Kennesaw State

Mercer

Presbyterian

Liberty

VMI

                It opens the door for Jacksonville and Campbell to have a scholarship football home that's geographically and competitively tolerable. And if there's somebody from elsewhere who wants to play in the conference, that opens the door to divisional play, further improving travel.

                It would aspire to finish in the middle of the FCS pack, and at-large bids to the playoffs would be tough for awhile. But again, some unity and stability usually leads to some progress.

                And as is increasingly the case, one hopes the level of delusion - i.e, moving - would be minimal.

                The primary problem with all of this was the inevitable unavailability of VMI, Mercer and East Tennessee State having leaped - for whatever reasons absent overwhelming logic - at invitations from the Southern Conference, which really could have handled waiting before it leaped at adding schools.

                Shoot, it wasn't expansion anymore for the Southern, it was survival. That leads back to a great, and fitting, line from "Broadcast News" courtesy of Aaron Altman/Albert Brooks: "Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"

                Helloooo, college sports officials in the 20-teens.

                But not having those three only affects the football alliance, dropping that to just six teams. This plan doesn't include Monmouth, which  is joining the Big South in football only. A seven-team conference with one really bad road trip is better than six.

                The A-Sun and Big South's losses have nowhere near the competitive impact of the Southern's, in anything. Of the three schools' 12 "main" team sports (baseball, basketball and softball), Mercer baseball - almost an afterthought on campus, unfortunately - is probably the best right now, with ETSU baseball gaining momentum.

                Mercer has had two quality men's basketball seasons in a row and one women's. That's not exactly overwhelming momentum, although the men show no signs of digressing, as both ETSU basketball teams are doing. VMI is at the bottom in men's hoops and doesn't field women's hoops. The Keydets, at quick glance, lack consistent success across the board, save for track and field.

                The future is, of course, murky for the A-Sun and Big South.

                Columbus State is in play as it plans to move into Division I, so that takes care of losing Mercer in the NAS. There have been rumors about Bellarmine in Kentucky moving up, so that fills ETSU's North slot, at least in body. There have been murmurs about North Alabama as well. There are some Big South programs in play, as well.

                And one never knows about Division II programs in the Carolinas that might be thinking of a move.

                So schools agreeing to move avoids the expansion from Division II, which, frankly, nobody really wants, especially in the A-Sun.

                Another main reason it has no shot: the whole thing makes a lot of sense, something absent in 95 percent of all the moves we've seen the past three years.

                Plus, getting ADs and presidents to agree on anything, to maybe sacrifice something a little bit short term for good in the long term, is a pipe dream.

                Just look at all the conference shakeups.

                Nevertheless, let's just see how things are for many schools within five years. Prepare for some "hmmm, nobody said it'd be like this" and then spin zones that would knock Bill O'Reilly unconscious.

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