Southern Conference official believe they have secured the league's future — and hopefully reversed a troubling trend — by adding East Tennessee, Mercer and VMI as new members.
The conference announced Thursday that East Tennessee and Mercer accepted invitations while VMI's addition must be ratified Friday by the school's Board of Visitors, something considered a formality. The SoCon had been one of the most plundered leagues recently with five of its 12 members choosing to leave since November.
East Tennessee was part of the Southern Conference from 1978 until 2005 when it left for the Atlantic Sun Conference. VMI competed in the Southern Conference for 79 years until 2003. Mercer had been one of the A-Sun's founding members in 1978.
All three are expected to join in July 2014, giving the league 10 members for the 2014-15 academic year.
"The addition of these three institutions will solidify the Southern Conference," Commissioner John Iamarino said, "and ensure our position as a vibrant league with a bright future."
And maybe end the full-scale rush to leave the league the past six months.
College of Charleston began the exodus in November with its move to the Colonial Athletic Association. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, two of the SoCon's most powerful football schools, left for the Sun Belt Conference, while basketball powerhouse Davidson will join the Atlantic 10. The latest departure came earlier this month when Elon bolted for the Colonial.
A-Sun Commissioner Ted Gumbart said his league has had inquiries from schools seeking membership. "While today's announcement is not unexpected, it is clear that the conclusion of some relationships often spur the evolution of others, and this will now be the case for the A-Sun," he said.
Iamarino said his the seven remaining schools in the current league are "committed to each other and the Southern Conference. We look forward to welcoming East Tennessee State, Mercer and VMI to the SoCon."