SoCon chief talks future of league

SoCon commissioner John Iamarino is in Hilton Head this week for the conference’s spring meetings.

The line of dominoes that began falling when the ACC raided the Big East for Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech 10 years ago has finally reached the Southern Conference.

With five schools leaving the SoCon, the mid-major league is expected to issue invitations to prospective members VMI, East Tennessee State and Mercer at its spring meetings this week in Hilton Head.

Commissioner John Iamarino addressed several topics related to SoCon expansion ahead of the meetings.

Q: Why hasn’t the SoCon been able to move faster on this?

A: Frankly, I was frustrated that we didn’t take definitive action at our April meeting in Charlotte. But fans have to understand that the commissioner doesn’t push a button and decide we’re going to expand. Commissioners can recommend, and I’ve certainly done that all along. But ultimately presidents and chancellors decide, and this group has chosen to be patient and wait until they have all the facts. Our movement will affect other conferences, and they will have to react. I honestly think in another 10 years, a new set of administrators and commissioners will wake up and say, “Why exactly did we do this? Why are we getting on airplanes for regular season games?”

Q: Given all the recent changes, how confident are you in the “core seven” of The Citadel, Furman, Wofford, Chattanooga, Samford, Western Carolina and UNC Greensboro?

A: After the announcements by Davidson and Elon, the athletic directors from the seven remaining schools conducted a conference call on their own, not sponsored by the league. They reassured each other that they are in it for the long haul. I had a great conversation with (new Chattanooga AD) David Blackburn and he said, ‘Don’t worry about us, this is where we want to be.’ So I do feel very good about our core seven. The No. 1 thing everyone is after is stability. If we add the three schools that we’ve visited, I think we’ll get that. That gives us a great nucleus of 10 that we could stay with for a couple of years.

Q: How soon can Mercer and ETSU play SoCon football?

A: The earliest I see Mercer playing football in the SoCon is 2014. For ETSU, we’re kind of leaning toward a full conference schedule in 2016. They will begin playing in 2015, but like Mercer, they’d like to have two full recruiting classes before starting league play. That way they avoid having to rely on junior college transfers. We want them to get their program off on the right foot academically and in terms of foundation.

Q: The league will collect $3 million in exit fees over the next couple of years from departing schools College of Charleston, Davidson, Elon, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. What will that money be used for?

A: We are going to be working with a professional marketing company to help us in the rebranding of the league. I would like for us to go deep into the digital space with video streaming, where we can get football, basketball and baseball streamed through a central portal so fans can see their teams’ home games and away. We also want to expand our presence on linear TV, where we currently don’t any any inventory.

Q: With Davidson’s departure, what is the future of the basketball tournament in Asheville?

A: At our meetings, the Asheville sports commission will make a presentation asking us to extend the tournament there another three years. They have expressed a strong desire to keep the tournament in Asheville.

Q: What are your thoughts on Elon and Davidson being eligible for SoCon championships in 2013-14, their last year in the league? Other leagues have made departing members ineligible.

A: That topic is on our agenda. My approach is, we should allow them to compete for championships, but I don’t think we should allow them to host conference championships. I know allowing them to compete is not a feeling shared by all of our core seven, but that’s my recommendation.”