It took seven months, countless hours of research and due diligence and two votes from the College of Charleston’s Board of Trustees, but the Cougars are finally headed to the Colonial Athletic Association.

The school’s board voted unanimously on Friday to join the nine-member league and will begin play next fall.

“It’s been a seven-month process, but it came out with the correct ending, and we’re very, very happy,” College of Charleston president George Benson said. “We’re moving to a collection of universities that are very similar to the direction the College of Charleston is moving. We see benefits on the athletic and academic side. We want to rub shoulders with these institutions. We’re pleased to get started.”

The board voted, 12-5, in October to open negotiations with the CAA about joining the league. The board was scheduled to revisit the issue at its quarterly meeting in January, but moved up the process after the recent flurry of college defections in other conferences. Maryland and Rutgers are joining the Big Ten and Louisville is heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“I think that may have helped accelerate the decision-making process of some of our trustees,” Benson said. “The administration has been committed to this for a long time.”

The move will cost the school close to $1 million. The cost to join the CAA will be about $300,000 plus an undisclosed transition fee. The Cougars also must pay an exit fee of $600,000 to the Southern Conference, a league they’ve been a member of since 1998.

A major stumbling point back in October for several board members was the notion of creating a Southern division within the CAA — a conference that now stretches nearly 1,000 miles from Charleston to Boston.

“I would be shocked if the Colonial didn’t come up with a Southern division that all of the people that support the College of Charleston will be pleased with,” said College of Charleston athletic director Joe Hull.

It was the assurance of a Southern division within the CAA from the school’s administration that swayed trustee Jeff Schliz, who voted against the proposal back in October, to back the move on Friday.

“The administration, through its contacts within the Colonial Athletic Association, believes that there are a number of schools changing conferences and coming into the CAA,” Schliz said.

“That information is a drastically different set of decision points than we had back in October. I just want to make sure that the athletes and coaches have the financial and academic support they need to meet the new challenges of joining the CAA.”

The CAA has been looking for new members since Virginia Commonwealth left the league for the Atlantic 10 Conference. Old Dominion (Conference USA) and Georgia State (Sun Belt) will leave the CAA at the end of the current season.

“We are extremely excited that the College of Charleston will be joining the CAA,” CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said. “We believe their nationally recognized athletic and academic programs will be a great institutional fit with other CAA institutions. Charleston will enhance the competition level in the conference and add to our group of nationally prominent teams in a number of sports. CAA fans will enjoy traveling to Charleston to see their team play, as will Cougar fans and alumni located in CAA cities in many of the major metropolitan areas of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.”

SoCon members Appalachian State and Georgia Southern have publicly expressed their interest in moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision and leaving the SoCon. Georgia Southern is reportedly a candidate to move to the Sun Belt Conference after Middle Tennessee State and Florida Atlantic agreed to join Conference USA

“We’re naturally disappointed, but not surprised, by today’s decision,” said SoCon commissioner John Iamarino. “Public comments made it apparent that the College of Charleston administration favored this move. Successfully assimilating changes in membership has been part of the Southern Conference’s DNA for more than 90 years.”

The CAA will hold the league’s baseball tournaments in 2015 and 2016 in Charleston, a source inside the athletic department confirmed. The CAA’s 2105 baseball tournament had been originally schedule to be held in Wilmington, N.C. The source also said there’s a realistic chance the league’s basketball tournament could held in Charleston “in the near future.”

The Cougars’ first CAA game will most likely be a women’s soccer match sometime in late August 2013.

“The CAA is a great league and we’re excited to be a part of it,” Hull said.