College of Charleston president George Benson received the green light from the school’s board of trustees Friday morning to begin negotiations with the Colonial Athletic Association.
The board met for 90 minutes before passing a resolution to open official talks with the CAA. The resolution, which passed by a 12-5 vote, does not guarantee the Cougars will join the nine-member league. The College of Charleston has been in the Southern Conference since 1998.
The final vote is expected to come at the board’s next scheduled meeting in January, although a vote on the school’s athletic conference affiliation could come before the start of the new year, according to board members.
“It’s a move forward for our program, and I would expect the negotiations to start in relatively short order,” said College of Charleston athletic director Joe Hull. “I think this was a major statement for the College of Charleston. I would expect the negotiations to move very quickly. I would expect the president would get together with the conference commissioner pretty soon and begin discussions.”
There are still several issues to iron out before the next board vote, the major one being the creation of a Southern Division within the CAA. The conference currently stretches more than 800 miles from Wilmington, N.C., to Boston.
The board’s athletic committee estimated that the travel budget for the athletic department would increase from $1.2 million to almost $1.8 million if the Cougars decide to move to the CAA. However, that figure was based on the assumption that the Cougars would be joined in the CAA by at least one other SoCon school. Earlier in the week, Davidson and Appalachian State said they were not going to join the CAA any time soon.
Several board members expressed concerns about joining the CAA if no other SoCon school joined them.
“We’re going to have to look at the travel budget again because those figures would increase without a Southern Division,” said Jeff Schilz.
Virginia Commonwealth left the CAA for the Atlantic-10 Conference, and Old Dominion (Conference USA) and Georgia State (Sun Belt) will leave at the end of the current season. The CAA has been looking for replacements since May.
“We are thrilled with the interest expressed by the College of Charleston,” said CAA commissioner Tom Yeager. “We look forward to entering into immediate negotiations with President Benson and hope to resolve any issues and finalize the process as quickly as possible.”
The Southern Conference remained relatively neutral about the Cougars’ decision.
“We will continue to monitor membership issues as we have done consistently for the past few years,” SoCon commissioner John Iamario said. “We are working diligently with our membership to ensure the continued success of the Southern Conference and provide a successful future for our athletics programs and the student-athletes we serve.”
Benson said it wasn’t an easy decision to consider leaving the Southern Conference. In the end, however, the benefits of being in the CAA outweighed those of staying in the SoCon.
“I have great respect for all those who would prefer to remain in the SoCon,” Benson said in a prepared statement. “However, assuming our negotiations are successful, I ultimately believe that a move to the Colonial would be consistent with the aspirations identified in the College’s Strategic Plan and will work to the advantage of our students, alumni, faculty, and staff.”
A sentiment shared by former head basketball coach John Kresse.
“The Colonial’s coaches, student-athletes, facilities, locations and their national visibility have made it a premier conference,” Kresse said. “I personally believe our association as a member would be a perfect fit for the College of Charleston.”
College of Charleston basketball coach Doug Wojcik was not surprised by the board’s decision. Wojcik said his recruiting philosophy won’t change with a new league.
“I wasn’t going to be surprised either way,” Wojcik said. “We’re going to recruit South Carolina and the Southeast first, but this does allow us to broaden our horizons and recruit parts of the Northeast.”
One of the few sports where the SoCon was superior to the CAA was in baseball. Cougars head coach Monte Lee said things won’t change much if the Cougars decide to join the CAA.
“If we’re in the Southern Conference or the Colonial, our goals haven’t changed,” Lee said. “Our goal is to win the conference and play in the postseason and get to Omaha (College World Series). Our program’s goals and aspirations won’t change because we switched conferences.”