Greetings from the Southern Conference!
In appreciation of those who support and follow our institutions, I wanted to share a few thoughts with you on our future.
Without question, 2012-13 was a challenging year for us. The changes caused by conference realignment are never an easy thing to deal with and often lead to misperceptions and unfounded rumors. The SoCon is not the only Division I conference to be touched by realignment. The constant search for more dollars and exposure in new markets has led a good number of institutions to use their athletic programs to rebrand themselves and abandon rivalries and other geographic considerations. Inevitably, it will be the student-athletes who will bear the brunt of increased travel and more time away from campus.
For a variety of reasons, five of our institutions decided to join different conferences. We will strive to make the coming year as fair and equitable as possible for our departing members and wish them well when they leave. But this attrition does not mean we’re looking at a declining period for the Southern Conference.
Rather, we see opportunity.
We see a chance to brand the SoCon for what it truly is – an association of 10 institutions (beginning in July of 2014) committed to each other and to the diversity we bring. We see the opportunity to reinforce the student-athlete experience as our highest priority. Our teams will continue to play against conference members located within a bus ride’s distance, minimizing missed class time and enabling family and friends to travel to away games.
Our Presidents and Chancellors are constantly discussing ways to reinforce the principles of good sportsmanship. We’re also in the business of educating leaders, and so the Southern Conference will continue to organize a three-day leadership institute each summer for representatives of our student-athlete advisory committee.
The SoCon values the communities our member institutions call home. Unlike some conferences that have cobbled together new members based largely on exposure in certain markets, we have added East Tennessee State, Mercer and VMI as members that will be good fits based upon three attributes – their commitment to the academic success of their student-athletes, their competiveness on the playing field or court, and their geographic location. It is telling that two of the three – VMI and East Tennessee State – are eagerly returning to the SoCon.
We never want to lose sight of our goal to be a highly competitive Division I conference and we’re adding quality programs to help in that regard. VMI’s basketball team has appeared in its conference tournament championship game three times since 2007. Mercer’s men’s basketball team won the 2012 College Insider Tournament and played in the 2013 NIT. Its baseball team earned an at-large bid to the NCAAs this season, and its women’s basketball team finished 20-12 and played in the postseason WBI tournament. East Tennessee State sent its volleyball, women’s golf, men’s tennis and baseball teams to NCAA tournaments this past season.
We see terrific opportunities with the newest technology. We are working to make all SoCon videostreamed events available through a common digital platform, providing one-stop video shopping for families, friends and fans. We are committed to adding website video content and creating more apps for use on smart phones and tablets. More games will be made available on local and cable TV outlets than in the recent past, as well.
We’re also exploring non-athletic methods of strengthening the affiliation our members feel for each other and the Conference. These may take the form of community service projects done in competition by our student-athlete groups, awards honoring faculty members on our campuses, or a student-athlete wellness project conducted on a league-wide basis.
You might say change is in our DNA. In the past 92 years, we’ve had to re-invent ourselves on multiple occasions. Most of the present members of the ACC and SEC started out as members of the SoCon. Each time there has been change, our institutional leaders have made wise choices to stabilize the Conference and flourish.
We believe we have done that once again and we remain enthusiastic and energized about our future. On behalf of the Southern Conference, I thank you for your support of our member institutions and their student-athletes.