As schools depart, SoCon and CAA under pressure

** FILE ** In this Sept. 1, 2007 file photo, Appalachian State running back Kevin Richardson celebrates their 34-32 win over Michigan in a football game in this Sept. 1, 2007 file photo, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Appalachian State opened last season with a shocking upset at Michigan. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

If they were so inclined, the commissioners of the Southern Conference and Colonial Athletic Association could commiserate Monday on the shifting fortunes of their respective leagues.

On the other hand, the SoCon’s John Iamarino and Tom Yeager of the CAA also might be eyeing each other suspiciously.

Both leagues suffered blows Monday as the dominoes of realignment in college athletics continued to fall.

It was widely reported Monday that SoCon football powers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern — owners of nine FCS national titles between them — this week will finally accept long-rumored invitations to join the FBS Sun Belt Conference.

ESPN reported Monday that App State and Georgia Southern will officially join the Sun Belt in 2015, beginning play in all sports but football in 2014. Both teams will be ineligible for the FCS playoffs in 2013, according to the ESPN report.

Those two schools will join College of Charleston in leaving the SoCon.

Meanwhile, CAA charter member George Mason announced Monday it is leaving for the Atlantic 10, joining VCU, Old Dominion and Georgia State in an exodus from the league College of Charleston will join this fall.

Despite the bad news, both commissioners expressed confidence in the future.

“We are going to stay viable,” said the CAA’s Yeager, whose league will have nine members next year. “We’ll be fine.”

The SoCon’s Iamarino said he’s been contacted by “enough schools to fill a conference.”

“If and when the time comes to expand, I think we will have very good options,” he said.

The loss of App State, Georgia Southern and College of Charleston will leave the SoCon with seven teams for football, nine for basketball and eight for baseball. And there’s no certainty that the departures will end there.

Iamarino would not name potential new members, but schools such as Mercer, Kennesaw State, East Tennessee State and VMI have been widely speculated on. The first three of those four schools are starting football programs. There’s also a chance the SoCon could eye members of the Big South, the CAA or the Atlantic Sun, home of new media darling Florida Gulf Coast.

SoCon athletic directors are set to meet in April to discuss membership.

“There’s a lot on the table,” Citadel athletic director Larry Leckonby said. “A lot of schools have shown some interest, and there are schools that various members are interested in.”

The SoCon also must decide if App State and Georgia Southern would be eligible for its football championship in 2013. A league source said the SoCon would do what was necessary “to protect its automatic bid” to the FCS playoffs.

Meanwhile, the departure of George Mason leaves the CAA with nine members for 2013-14, including newcomer College of Charleston.

During a conference call Monday, a reporter asked Yeager if he sensed any “buyer’s remorse” on the part of College of Charleston.

“I don’t,” Yeager said. “I was there last week, and they are very excited to join the Colonial. But we are sensitive to that.”

For its part, College of Charleston issued a statement — attributed to no one — that affirmed its commitment to the CAA.

“At a time of instability and uncertainty in athletic conference affiliation, announcements of this sort are not surprising,” the statement said. “… We look forward to a long, happy and exciting association with the Colonial.”

Yeager said CAA presidents were slated for a conference call Monday afternoon to discuss membership. He acknowledged that a school like Florida Gulf Coast is suddenly a hot property after making the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

“Things can happen,” Yeager said, referring to Florida Gulf Coast. “We’ve got a team in the Sweet 16 that’s been eligible like two years. Don’t think for a second — please don’t attribute that like they’re an expansion candidate — but right things can happen in places and have tremendous results.”

After Monday’s events, both leagues could use the “right things to happen” — and soon.