The Southern Conference Realignment Piñata


Conference realignment madness appears to be settling in at the top of the pile, with the major conferences settling in for the time being, allowing the final ripples to work their way through the mid majors and FCS levels. Those ripples continue to batter and erode the once proud borders of the Southern Conference, which has once again seen a mass exodus of membership.

In the recent weeks, the Southern Conference (SoCon) has witnessed the departures of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern to the Sun Belt Conference, College of Charleston and Elon to the Colonial Athletic Association, and Davidson to the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Turnover in membership is nothing new to the venerable SoCon. As the years have gone by, and conference realignment has continued on in furious spurts throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, the SoCon continues to absorb blow after blow.

Much like a piñata, the SoCon continues to spill it goodies with each swing, wondering if the next swing will be the one to shatter its thin shell.

West Virginia University once called the SoCon home, competing in all sports from 1950 – 1968. The Mountaineers, just as so many before and since, left the SoCon for greener fields.

The SoCon first came into existence in 1921 as an spin-off of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA). Fourteen schools became charter members of the SoCon: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Washington & Lee.

The SoCon would continue to expand throughout the 1920s to add schools such as Florida, LSU, Ole Miss, Tulane, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Sewanee, Virginia Military Institute, and Duke. But all this expansion would not lead to bigger and better things for the SoCon.

The Birth of the SEC…

By the dawn of the 1930s, the SoCon had grown to an unwieldy 23 schools, leaving 13 member schools to break away and form the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in 1932. The thirteen departing schools (and charter members of the SEC) were: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Sewanee, Tennessee, Tulane, and Vanderbilt.

The SoCon would ride out the next few years with their remaining ten members before deciding to expand once again in 1936. In that year, the SoCon added The Citadel, Davidson, Furman, George Washington, Richmond, Wake Forest, and William & Mary to get their membership to a healthy 17 schools. The conference would soon drop to 16 schools after Virginia decided to exit the conference in 1937 to become an independent.

The SoCon would get back to 17 schools when they finally permitted our Mountaineers into the conference in 1950. WVU made the move to the SoCon for scheduling purposes, but also the easier access to the men’s NCAA basketball tournament.

With 17 members on board, the conference figured to be on solid footing once again as a major conference. That is until the conference made the epic mistake of attempting to ban post-season play for its teams. That move would put the final nail in the conference’s major football coffin.

The Birth of the ACC and the fall into football obscurity…

The SoCon would suffer a huge blow in 1953 when seven members split from the conference to form the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). The seven defectors included: Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, and Wake Forest. The West Virginia Mountaineers wanted badly to go with the other ACC members, but could not gain admittance, due in large part to the geographical limitations and poor roads of the Mountain State.

With the loss of the ACC members, the SoCon began its slow decline into major college football obscurity. Over the years, the SoCon has accepted new members, only to see most of them leave later. Other schools to have left the SoCon include: VMI, Virginia Tech, Washington & Lee, George Washington, Richmond, William & Mary, East Carolina, Marshall, and East Tennessee State.

What is left…

In total, the SoCon has lost 36 schools to other conferences in its turbulent 92 year history. The conference is left today with seven members: Chattanooga, The Citadel, Furman, Samford, UNC-Greensboro, Western Carolina, and Wofford.

The once mighty SoCon is now left with yet another hollowed out membership and in need of another round of call-ups to survive. Even now, with the SoCon’s long history of resiliency in the face of conference realignment annihilation, one has to wonder: how many more whacks can this piñata take?