SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Feb. 25 is perhaps the most important date in the history of the Southern Conference. On that particular Friday in 1921, the first day of the league’s groundbreaking basketball tournament, representatives from 14 of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s 30 members gathered in Atlanta, Georgia, to establish the Southern Intercollegiate College. A hundred years later and now known as simply the Southern Conference, the league celebrates a century of athletic and academic excellence in 2021.
“One hundred years. That’s a long time since the Southern Conference was founded,” said Jim Schaus, the ninth commissioner in the league’s illustrious history. “It has been a century of excellence. As we officially celebrate our Founders’ Day on Feb. 25, 1921, we reflect on the incredible teams, student-athlete accomplishments, academic achievements and historic moments that have made the Southern Conference one of the nation’s finest conferences. We look forward to what is in store for our second century.”
The nation’s fifth-oldest NCAA Division I athletic association, the SoCon has been a pioneer. In addition to contesting the first-ever collegiate conference basketball tournament in 1921, the league tackled freshman eligibility in 1922, became the first conference to adopt the 3-point field goal in basketball in 1980 and developed women’s championships in 1984.
Forty-four schools have called the Southern Conference their full-time home since 1921, including the schools that exited to form the Southeastern Conference in 1932 and the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1953. In all, 21 schools that are now members of "Power 5" conferences were once members of the SoCon.
The conference currently consists of 10 members in six states throughout the Southeast and sponsors 22 varsity sports and championships that produce participants for NCAA Division I Championships. The league prides itself on the diversity of its institutions, as four are private and six are state schools, two of which are military colleges.
SoCon teams have won eight Football Championship Subdivision titles, second-most in NCAA history. Furman men’s basketball player Frank Selvy scored 100 points in a game in 1954, a mark that still stands as the Division I record for single-game points. In 1990, The Citadel became the first military school to reach the College World Series.
Great coaches and athletes from different eras have competed in the Southern Conference, from Bear Bryant to Lou Holtz, from Sam Huff to Terrell Owens, from Jerry West to Stephen Curry. LPGA legend Dottie Pepper was the SoCon Women’s Athlete of the Decade in the 1980s and Samford runner Karisa Nelson won the league’s most recent NCAA title in 2017, in the indoor mile.
Academic excellence has been a major part of the Southern Conference’s tradition. Hundreds of SoCon student-athletes have been recognized on CoSIDA Academic All-America and all-district teams and a total of 20 Rhodes Scholarship winners have been selected from conference institutions.
On hand at the 1921 meeting in Atlanta were officials from Alabama, Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn), Clemson, Georgia, Georgia School of Technology (Georgia Tech), Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi A&M (Mississippi State), North Carolina, North Carolina State, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) and Washington & Lee.
Play began in the fall of 1921, and a year later, six more schools joined the fledgling league, including Tulane (which had attended the inaugural meeting but had elected not to join), Florida, Louisiana (LSU), Mississippi, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. VMI joined in 1923 and Duke was added in 1929.
Current members The Citadel and Furman joined in 1936, Chattanooga and Western Carolina were added in 1976, UNC Greensboro and Wofford joined in 1997, Samford joined in 2008 and Mercer was added in 2014. ETSU was a member from 1978-2005 before rejoining in 2014, while VMI departed the league in 2003, rejoining in 2014.
For more information on the SoCon’s first 100 years, click here, and to purchase “A Proud Athletic History: 100 Years of the Southern Conference,” written by former SoCon Commissioner John Iamarino, click here.