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East Tennessee State and Mercer already have accepted invitations to join the league in 2014.
Friday, May 31, 2013
VMI was formally extended an invitation to join the Southern Conference at the league’s spring meetings Thursday in Hilton Head, S.C.
The Lexington-based military school will wait another day to accept, however.
Following ratification of the move today by the school’s Board of Visitors, an action that figures to be nothing more than a formality, VMI will accept the invitation to rejoin the league that housed its athletics programs from 1924 to 2003, when it departed for the Big South Conference.
“I’m not going to say anything now, but we’ll talk [today],’’ said Keydets athletic director Donny White, speaking via cellphone Thursday from the league meetings.
A member of the board contacted Thursday said he wasn’t at liberty to discuss the situation.
Two hours later on a media conference call, Southern Conference Commissioner John Iamarino said the military institution is a veritable lock to formally accept the invitation today based on his discussions with White and VMI Superintendent J.H. Binford Peay in Hilton Head.
“I’ve spoken with Donny White and General Peay several times the last two days and they both informed me that as a public institution that VMI has to get approval from the Board of Visitors to make this move,’’ Iamarino said.
“The meeting will take place [today]. So all indications are they will accept our invitation, but it is pending the final review of the Board of Visitors and we hope that the board will agree with the General’s recommendation that this will be a good move for VMI.”
That said, consider it all but a done deal.
Meanwhile, East Tennessee State and Mercer, currently members of the Atlantic Sun Conference, accepted invitations Thursday to join the league beginning July 1, 2014. ETSU was a SoCon member before leaving in 2005 for the Atlantic Sun.
“The addition of these three institutions will solidify the Southern Conference and ensure our position as a vibrant league with a bright future,’’ Iamarino said in a statement earlier in the day. “We are delighted to have invited three quality institutions, two of which are returning to a home they previously enjoyed for many years.
“Our membership is excited about rekindling old rivalries and establishing new ones. Most importantly, we’ve been able to grow while not extending our geographic footprint to an extreme extent.”
The SoCon was forced to find new members in the wake of five schools exiting the conference in the past six months, whittling the league to only seven schools. The defectors included FCS football powers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, which are headed to the FBS Sun Belt Conference in 2014. Two other members, College of Charleston and Elon, are moving to the Colonial Athletic Association, with Charleston joining the league this summer and Elon entering the loop in 2014. Meanwhile, longtime SoCon basketball power Davidson is booked for the Atlantic 10 in 2014.
The SoCon’s membership for 2014-15 will consist of The Citadel, ETSU, Furman, Mercer, UNC Greensboro, Samford, Chattanooga, VMI, Western Carolina and Wofford.
That gives the league 10 basketball members. However, football is another story.
First, UNC Greensboro doesn’t have a football program. East Tennessee State is resurrecting the sport it dropped a decade ago. The Buccaneers will field a team in 2015, but won’t play a full conference schedule until 2016, giving the program two full recruiting classes in the bank without relying heavily on junior college transfer players. Mercer, which will play football in the non scholarship Pioneer League this fall and has a new stadium under construction, will begin play in the SoCon in 2014, Iamarino said.
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