SPARTANBURG — The Southern Conference may have to “reinvent itself,” commissioner John Iamarino said Thursday, and that could happen through expansion.
The SoCon, the fifth-oldest league in NCAA Division I athletics, has been beleaguered in recent months. Two members, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, are publicly seeking a move up from FCS to FBS (I-A) football. And a rival mid-major league, the Colonial Athletic Association, reportedly has extended invitations to two other SoCon schools, College of Charleston and Davidson.
Earlier this week, Charleston athletic director Joe Hull cited the “uncertain future” of the SoCon as one reason his school is considering a jump to the CAA.
After meeting with SoCon presidents last week, Iamarino said his league would consider expanding from its current 12 members (nine in football) if need be.
“That’s possible, yes,” Iamarino said at the SoCon’s football media day. “We haven’t ruled that out.”
Iamarino’s message — the SoCon is not going anywhere, despite an “unnerving” couple of months.
“We have two schools who want to play football at a different level,” he said. “But wanting that and being able to make that happen are two different things. If that doesn’t happen in the next three to five to 10 years, it doesn’t hurt us.
“I hope our current members don’t think those schools are leaving any day now, so we better think about getting out. That’s not the case.”
And Iamarino said speculation that several other SoCon members — there have been rumors about Furman, Elon and UNC Greensboro — may join the CAA in a mass defection is off base.
“I saw an article just this morning listing a string of two or three potential members, and that is nowhere near the truth,” he said.
Iamarino cited some steps the SoCon has taken to shore up its men’s basketball, including hiring a director of basketball for the league. The SoCon will also revamp its financial distribution plan to give a larger share of NCAA tournament money to the teams that make the tournament.
“Right now, that money is split fairly evenly,” he said. “We’ll revise that so it’s a reward for schools that make a commitment to basketball, and an incentive for programs to put together a good schedule and have the kind of success we want to have.”
Iamarino pointed out that the SoCon has been around since 1921, and once included schools such as Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, N.C. State, South Carolina and Tennessee.
“This league has reinvented itself before,” he said. “Will we have to reinvent ourselves again? Perhaps. Our No. 1 goal is to keep the 12 members we have now — they are a good fit — and see if we can add pieces to make ourselves more valuable.”