The 18 members of the College of Charleston’s Board of Trustees will meet today to decide whether the school will remain in the Southern Conference or jump to the Colonial Athletic Association.
But what’s at stake is more than just a conference affiliation — it’s the future of the university on and off the playing fields and courts.
The board is expected to vote on the proposal to leave the SoCon and join the CAA after the athletics committee and athletic director Joe Hull present their report to the full board. A simple majority is all that will be required for the proposal to pass. A 9-9 tie would mean the resolution would fail, and the Cougars would remain in the SoCon.
“This isn’t only about what conference we’re going play in or who the basketball or volleyball teams are going to play against,” said board member Dwight Johnson, the chairman of the athletics committee. “This is about making the College of Charleston a national university by attracting the best and brightest professors and students from across the country. A conference affiliation can be hugely important in that endeavor.”
The pros and cons of making the jump to the more competitive CAA are as varied as the opinions on the board itself.
To help the board make an informed decision, the athletics committee compiled a comprehensive 32-page report detailing the arguments for and against a move to the CAA. The report makes a persuasive case for the Cougars move to the CAA, which includes an enhanced brand name and academic reputation of the school in Northeast markets, such as Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. That combined with more television exposure, especially for the basketball team, a greater chance of receiving NCAA at large bids in all sports, and the CAA’s ability to attract better student-athletes to Charleston all make for compelling reasons to join forces with the CAA.
“The athletic department and the athletics committee did their due diligence,” said Gregory Padgett, the board’s chairman. “I think the report speaks for itself.”
Johnson said the Cougars’ exposure to those large Northeast markets not only will attract more students and better athletes but also will bring in more money from potential donors.
“We’ve got alumni groups in Washington and New York already,” Johnson said. “Outside of South Carolina, a very large number of students at the College come from New Jersey. We believe that from a fundraising standpoint, we’ll see the number of potential donors go up significantly with our footprint in the Colonial league.”
A major reason for the proposed move is the increased television exposure the men’s basketball would receive. The CAA signed a new contract with the NBC Sports Network, which will feature 18 nationally televised games and 33 regional games. The SoCon has just four national games with ESPN and no regional televised games.
“I just remember when Charleston Southern played UCLA in the NCAA tournament and all exposure they received,” Johnson said.
While those arguments are persuasive, board member Jeff Schilz isn’t so sure the same thing can’t be accomplished by remaining in the SoCon and at a cheaper overall cost. The cost of playing teams from as far away as Boston, New York and Washington is staggering. The report estimated it would cost the Cougars $587,000 more to travel in the CAA.
“For some schools and some athletic departments that’s not a lot of money, but it is for the College of Charleston,” said Schilz, who played baseball for the Cougars in 1990s. “We could achieve the same exposure by mandating that every sport play a team from the Northeast corridor. That would cost the athletic department a lot less than going to the Colonial, and I’m just not sure we have a whole lot in common with schools like Northeastern, Hofstra and Drexel.”
Schilz believes the travel money could be more wisely spent across the athletic department.
“We could use that money and build a better infrastructure and upgrade our facilities, especially at Patriots Point,” Schilz said.
One of the hopes for the board was that other SoCon members would follow the Cougars into the CAA. Davidson, Elon, UNC-Greensboro and Furman had been rumored for months as possible partners in what could have been a “south division” in the CAA. Davidson announced Wednesday that it would remain in the Southern Conference.
Meanwhile, SoCon members Appalachian State and Georgia Southern have publicly expressed their interest in moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision. Both want a bigger share of the football pie. Two sources in the SoCon confirmed that Appalachian State, while still hopeful of a move to a FBS conference, would remain in the league for the “foreseeable future.”
“Some of the travel expenses in the board’s report were based on the assumption that there was going to be a South Division in the CAA,” Schilz said. “Well, we know that’s not going to happen so those figures could possibly go up even more.”
Johnson admits that the demise of the SoCon had been a factor in his support for the move to the CAA.
“That was about 50 percent of it,” Johnson said. “There’s been a tremendous upheaval in conference realignment in the last 18 months. When the music stops you don’t want to be the one school without a chair to sit in.”
The SoCon is the fourth-oldest athletic league in the country. When the league was formed in 1921, its original 14-team membership included the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia. Schilz is confident that the SoCon could survive the departure of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern.
A move to the CAA could mean more money for the athletic department, maybe even as much as $1 million.
But those figure are based on assumptions that the men’s basketball team will win the CAA on a semi-regular basis and play in the NCAA basketball tournament, Schilz said.
The Cougars have not won the SoCon or been to the NCAA basketball tournament in more than a decade. So why, Schilz contends, can the school count on the Cougars having more success in what is perceived as a tougher league. The SoCon was the 23rd ranked league in basketball last season, while the CAA was 14th.
The CAA rewards teams in the league for their success on the court. As teams are more successful, they receive a bigger share of the revenue.
The Cougars could get $400,000 from the CAA if they win the conference title and win two NCAA games over a six-year period.
That figure could get as high as $675,000 if they win two CAA titles and four NCAA tournament games over a six-year period.
“If we were dominating the SoCon that would be one thing,” Schilz said. “We haven’t won a conference championship in 12 years and have won only one NCAA tournament in the history of our program. I just think we need to be realistic. Some of the projections that have been made in the report assume a lot of things that we haven’t done around here in a long, long time.”