Just as it began to pull itself together after the departure of its two best football programs, the Southern Conference now faces the loss of its premier basketball team.
Davidson College, winner of the last two and five of the last eight SoCon tournament titles, will announce today its move to the Atlantic 10 beginning in 2014-15, according to reports.
The reports, from Sports Illustrated and ESPN, surprised SoCon commissioner John Iamarino. But they were not denied by Davidson officials, who have scheduled a “special announcement” for 10:30 a.m. today.
“I have heard nothing from Davidson,” Iamarino said Tuesday afternoon. “That would surprise me. Other than that, I have no comment.”
In an email to league schools Tuesday, Iamarino indicated that he had not been contacted by the A-10 or Davidson regarding the announcement.
The SoCon already is losing football powers Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, with nine FCS titles between them, to the FBS Sun Belt Conference. A third member, College of Charleston, is heading to the Colonial Athletic Association.
Reports have been circulating for weeks that the Atlantic 10, which is losing Charlotte, Temple, Xavier and Butler, was eyeing Davidson, and the A-10 already has poached George Mason from the Colonial. The move on Davidson came quickly.
Just last week, Iamarino said the SoCon will pay campus visits to Mercer, East Tennessee State and VMI in a process that could result in invitations.
Now, Iamarino may have to hunt for a fourth new member.
“We’ve been aware of the initial report that came out three or four weeks ago,” Iamarino said of the A-10. “The people at Davidson assured us they would keep us updated in the process, and I think they have done that. Beyond that, there’s not much I can say.”
The move to the Atlantic 10 is risky for Davidson, which resisted overtures from the Colonial. The Wildcats have ruled the one-bid SoCon, but the multiple-bid A-10 — which ranked No. 7 in RPI last year, compared with 22 for the Colonial and 27 for the SoCon — is a whole different basketball game.
The A-10 can offer superior revenue and TV exposure, but also will require more travel time and likely budget increases and facility upgrades. Even with coach Bob McKillop at the helm, it could take the Wildcats years to compete for A-10 titles or bids.
In the SoCon, Iamarino now must judge the impact of Davidson’s departure on the rest of the league. Will it encourage rumored Colonial targets such as Elon or Furman to consider their options? Will the SoCon move to replace Davidson quickly, or is the expected incoming trio of Mercer, ETSU and VMI enough?
The SoCon settled on those three schools as their top targets last week, and could vote to add them by the end of the month. All three schools should fit quickly into the SoCon in basketball and baseball, but football is another issue.
VMI left the SoCon in the first place because it could not compete in football, and has continued to struggle in the Big South. Mercer and ETSU, members of the Atlantic Sun, are re-starting their football programs, Mercer with former Furman coach Bobby Lamb in charge. But it’s not clear when they will be ready to play SoCon football.
“That’s a big question that has to be asked,” Iamarino said.
One big question among many, it would seem.