Division II teams could form strong conference

dshirley@macon.comJuly 4, 2014 

On Tuesday, we saw an addition to the ACC the same day the conference lost one of its founding members. And we saw the Southern Conference lose four programs and replace them with three.

Louisville joined the ACC officially Tuesday to replace Maryland, which jumped to the Big Ten. While it hurts to lose a founding member, that’s a win for the ACC considering Maryland hasn’t been relevant in anything for some time, while Louisville in recent years has won a basketball national title and a BCS bowl game while also reaching the College World Series.

The Southern Conference lost Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Elon and Davidson, while Mercer, East Tennessee State and VMI moved into the conference. Some question Georgia Southern’s move up to the FBS and the Sun Belt, but as long as Eagles fans adjust their goals, that’s a solid step up for the program. Mercer’s move is also an overall positive, although the Bears left a terrific mid-major conference in the A-Sun.

It was yet another day of the process of realignment, which has ruled over college athletics for the past few years. Hopefully, that is about to come to an end, although it would be nice to see a little more realignment -- right here in our state on a smaller level.

The constant movement of the past few years has totally changed the Division I level -- and who knows what changes are about to come in regards to player payments. But the changes haven’t hit the Division II level on a large scale yet, although the Gulf South Conference did lose several of its western programs recently.

Before they are forced to make changes, it would be wise for the Division II programs in our state to be proactive and make moves to build their own conference and their own brand. And it could be a heck of a conference and a heck of a brand.

Just start with the football-playing programs: Albany State, Clark Atlanta, Fort Valley State, Morehouse, Paine, Shorter, West Georgia and Valdosta State. That’s a terrific start with eight pretty good athletics programs all right here in the state.

On the playing fields and courts, it makes sense because it would be a solid level of play in most sports. Off the fields and courts, it makes sense because there would be almost zero travel, which saves money. There also would be natural rivalries, which would build attention for the conference and get fans invested in games against one another. That makes money.

And we all know this is all about money.

But if eight programs aren’t enough to form a full conference, there are others to choose from (although football would be stuck at eight). There are many other Division II programs in the state for other sports, which could add depth and quality to the conference. That includes Georgia College, Armstrong Atlantic, Clayton State, Columbus State, Georgia Regents, Georgia Southwestern and North Georgia.

Any of those -- or all of them -- would be good choices to build a conference right here in the state and would give their students and fans something strong to cheer for and against.

It’s probably a long shot, mainly because the Gulf South Conference programs (Shorter, West Georgia and Valdosta) are tied to one of the strongest Division II conferences around, and it makes sense for them to stay put. Also, the SIAC programs (Albany State, Clark Atlanta, Fort Valley State, Morehouse and Paine) have longstanding ties to their conference that would be difficult to break, both for their leadership and fan bases.

Plus, the Peach Belt Conference is a terrific conference and has been for years.

Still, a new Division II conference focusing on state programs would be forward thinking and be a huge positive for everyone involved with very few negatives. That sounds like something everyone could invest in to be a terrific move for all the schools, their leadership groups and their fans.

Contact Daniel Shirley at 744-4227 or dshirley@macon.com

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