Author: Wade Littleton / Sports Editor Source: The Rogersville Review
It’s official. East Tennessee State University is returning to the Southern Conference in all sports. At the SoCon’s summer meetings in Hilton Head, SC, Thursday, the Bucs, along with fellow Atlantic Sun Conference member Mercer and former SoCon mate Virginia Military Institute (VMI) will all join the SoCon beginning July 1, 2014. “The addition of these three institutions will solidify the Southern Conference and ensure our position as a vibrant league with a bright future,” SoCon Commissioner John Iamarino said. “We are delighted to invite three quality institutions, two of which are returning to a home they previously enjoyed for many years. ETSU and Mercer have accepted invitations to join the conference next year, while VMI is expected to formally ratify joining the league today (Friday). Currently, ETSU and Mercer compete in the A-Sun, while VMI is in the Big South Conference. ETSU and VMI are former SoCon members. VMI departed the league in 2003, while ETSU’s final season in the conference was 2004-05. “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 commissioner noted. The SoCon’s membership for the 2014-15 academic year will be as follows: The Citadel, ETSU, Furman, Mercer, UNC-Greensboro, Samford, Chattanooga, VMI, Western Carolina and Wofford. ETSU was a SoCon member from 1978-2005 and won the Commissioner’s Cup during the 1982-83 academic year. The Bucs sponsor 17 sports and is restarting the football program, which was dropped in 2003, in time for the 2015 season. A new head coach is expected to be named in the coming weeks. Since joining the A-Sun in 2005, ETSU has won the men’s all-sports race each year from 2005-12, the women’s all-sports trophy in 2006-07 and the combined all-sports race each year from 2006-12. The Bucs have won 33 men’s regular-season and tournament titles and 19 women’s championships in their time in the A-Sun so far, including a remarkable current run of seven straight men’s tennis tournament titles. ETSU’s baseball team recently won the A-Sun Baseball Championship and will represent the league in an NCAA regional this weekend at Vanderbilt. ETSU also enjoyed a successful run in the SoCon, notably winning 13 regular-season and tournament titles in men’s basketball under coaches Les Robinson, Alan LeForce, Eddie DeChellis and current coach Murry Bartow. Based in Macon, GA, Mercer has more than 8,300 students enrolled on campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah. The last remaining charter member of the A-Sun, Mercer has enjoyed great success in the league since its inception in 1978 as the Trans-Atlantic Athletic Conference. The Bears will be adding women’s track and field and resurrecting football — which last played a game in 1941 — for the 2013-14 academic year, with the football team playing in the non-scholarship Pioneer League before making the move to the SoCon. Those additions will bring Mercer’s number of sponsored sports to 18. Located in Lexington, VA, VMI is a four-year undergraduate college awarding bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees. VMI enrolls almost 1,600 cadets. As a member of the SoCon from 1924-2003, VMI won several league championships. The Keydets won five football titles in a 12-year span in the 1950s and 1960s and seven overall. VMI has also won multiple men’s basketball regular-season and tournament titles and a baseball regular-season division title in 1988. The Keydets football team is head coached by Chattanooga native “Sparky” Woods. His brother, Don Woods, was head football coach at Morristown West High School for several years. “Our core members are committed to each other and the Southern Conference,” Iamarino said. “We look forward to welcoming East Tennessee State, Mercer and VMI to the SoCon.” In another development, the SoCon and the city of Asheville, NC are expected to announce an extension of the contract to host the men’s and women’s conference basketball tournaments until 2017. The men’s tournament is played at U.S.Cellular Arena, formerly Asheville Civic Center, while the women’s tournament is staged at Kimmel Arena on the University of North Carolina-Asheville campus.
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