You could hear the emotion in the voice of College of Charleston baseball coach Monte Lee as he talked about the Southern Conference.
College of Charleston Baseball
College of Charleston BaseballHead coach: Monte Lee (5th season) is 156-85.NCAA Appearances: 2004, ‘05, ‘06, ‘10, ‘12.Last SoCon tournament title: 2006.2012 record: 38-22, 21-9 in SoCon (tied for 1st with App State)2013 opener: Feb. 15 against Xavier at 6 p.m.
The vast majority of Lee’s playing and coaching career has been spent in the SoCon.
In November, when the College of Charleston announced that the school was leaving the SoCon to join the Colonial Athletic Association, Lee couldn’t help but be a little nostalgic.
“I played in the Southern Conference and the only head coaching experience I have is in the Southern Conference,” said Lee, who enters his fifth season as the Cougars’ head coach. “I’ve kind of grown up in the Southern Conference, and it’s a great baseball conference. So, yeah, I’m going to miss all the relationships I’ve built over the years with the coaches around the league.”
When College of Charleston athletic director Joe Hull gathered all the school’s coaches together to gauge their reaction to a move to the CAA, nearly all of them supported the idea. In most sports, the CAA was hands down a better conference with tougher opponents than the SoCon.
However, baseball was the one exception. The Southern Conference was the seventh-ranked league in the NCAA’s baseball ratings power index (RPI), while the CAA was 18th. There was a public perception that Lee was against the move.
“An overwhelming majority of coaches here felt like it was a great move for the College of Charleston,” Lee said. “If our president and athletic director felt like this was the best thing for the school, then, of course I’m on board 100 percent. I think the change and my reaction to it was a little bit overblown.”
Lee said a couple of players did de-commit from Charleston after the school announced it was going to the CAA. But it didn’t take long for Lee to fill those slots.
“I think a player has to go to the school and a program that excites him,” said Lee, who has compiled a 156-85 mark with the Cougars. “We lost some good players, but we gained some really, really good players to replace those guys.”
The bottom line is that moving to the CAA won’t change Lee’s job description.
“I’ve still got to win, and our major objective is to win the conference,” Lee said. “I’m excited about going to the CAA and seeing new places and playing against new teams. It’s going to be different. There are a lot of programs in the CAA that we don’t know a lot about and that we’ve never played against before, so I think that side of it is going to be new and exciting.”
The Cougars have been to five NCAA regionals (2004, ’05, ’06, ’10, and ’12). Of those five NCAA appearances, four came from at-large bids. Historically, the CAA has been a one-bid league, while the SoCon has enjoyed multiple bids most seasons.
“The CAA hasn’t been a multi-bid league in the past, but we’re hoping that’ll change when we get into the league,” Lee said. “The realignment that all the conferences are going through isn’t over. The CAA could pick up some quality baseball programs in the future.”
Non-conference scheduling will be the key for the Cougars. Beating the likes of South Carolina, Clemson and Coastal Carolina, like they did in 2012, will enhance any team’s resume come tournament time. Lee said he’ll continue to schedule those teams.
“I’m always going to put us in a good position from a scheduling standpoint,” Lee said. “I want to play a tough non-conference schedule. To get an at-large bid, you’ve got to schedule tough and play those tough non-conference games.”
Lee said the Cougars will continue to play The Citadel every year and already has games scheduled with Georgia Southern in 2014.
“I’m sure we’re going to continue to play the schools from the Southern Conference,” Lee said. “We’ve got Appalachian State coming here next year for a tournament next season and we’re hoping to get Elon on the schedule as well. The proximity of the Southern Conference schools makes it easy to schedule those teams.”
The Cougars, who went 38-22 and earned a share of the SoCon regular season title last year, open the regular season Feb. 15 at home against Xavier.