College conference shuffle reaches SoCon

When Virginia Commonwealth decided to leave the Colonial Athletic Association this week, commissioner Tom Yeager learned of VCU’s departure through media reports.

“That was frustrating, and is frustrating,” Yeager told reporters Tuesday.

Southern Conference commissioner John Iamarino is working hard to make sure the same fate doesn’t befall his league, which is the fourth-oldest in college athletics and home to state teams College of Charleston, The Citadel, Furman and Wofford.

As the dominoes fall in conference realignment, they are falling closer and closer to the SoCon, which has nine members in football, 12 in basketball and 11 in baseball.

“The whole subject is taking up a lot of our time,” Iamarino said Wednesday from the league office in Spartanburg. “For myself and about 30 other commissioners, it is time consuming and never-ending.”

Recent events have dialed up the alert levels among SoCon members. The Colonial’s loss of Georgia State (to the Sun Belt in 2013) and VCU (to the Atlantic 10, immediately) — and the possible move of Old Dominion to Conference USA — means that league could be looking for new members, and soon.

Media reports have mentioned SoCon members Davidson and College of Charleston as possible targets for the Colonial.

College of Charleston athletic director Joe Hull said none of that speculation has come from him.

“We have not been invited to go anywhere,” Hull said Wednesday. “I don’t even know how it’s done. We haven’t applied for or received an invitation.”

Yet Hull acknowledged the landscape is changing fast.

“It’s on everybody’s minds,” he said, “from the power conferences and the Southern Conference and beyond. There’s certainly an amazing amount of jockeying for position going on.”

The SoCon’s annual meetings are set for May 29-June 1 in Asheville, N.C., with realignment at the top of the agenda.

“Our obligation is to do the best for College of Charleston,” Hull said. “We’re in a conference, and we’re happy with the Southern Conference … Everybody’s trying to figure out what’s best for their institution.”

Leaving the SoCon would come at a price — a $600,000 exit fee with less than two years’ notice, $300,000 with more than two years’ warning, according to Iamarino.

“That’s less a deterrent than compensating the league for what it would have to deal with in a change of membership,” he said.

Complicating Iamarino’s task is the fact that SoCon members Appalachian State and Georgia Southern have stated their desires to move up from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision, which would require leaving the SoCon.

App State, hoping for an FBS invite, has so far been left out as Conference USA recently added five members, including Charlotte, which won’t even field a football team until 2013. App State athletic director Charlie Cobb said he’s had conversations with the Sun Belt, and discussions about starting a new FBS league.

“Our objective hasn’t changed,” he told the Asheville Citizen-Times. “We’d like to find an FBS opportunity.”

Georgia Southern, meanwhile, is not as close to moving up. The school, which has won six FCS national titles, recently announced an eight-year plan to raise money for a move up to FBS.

The Big South Conference, which includes Charleston Southern, also could be changing. Coastal Carolina has made clear its interest in leaving the Big South, and has reportedly held exploratory talks with the SoCon and Colonial. Big South member Liberty also has announced plans to move up to FBS.

Iamarino said the same emotions that fuel realignment in the power conferences — “fear and greed” — are at work in mid-major leagues. The desire for content that drives multi-million dollar TV deals for the ACC and SEC trickles down, as leagues like the SoCon (with ESPN3.com) and the Colonial (with NBC Sports Group) sign their own smaller deals.

Iamarino, the SoCon’s commissioner since 2006, said he has a short list of possible target schools if it becomes necessary.

“I haven’t shared that list with anyone yet,” he said. “But it might be time to share it at our upcoming meetings.”