Southern Conference expanding by three

Depleted by conference realignment, the Southern Conference is expected to grow by three with the addition of East Tennessee State University, Mercer University and likely the Virginia Military Institute for the 2014-15 school year.

SoCon commissioner John Iamarino, in an announcement from the conference's spring meetings Thursday, said ETSU and Mercer have accepted invitations to join the conference next year, while VMI is expected to formally ratify joining the conference when its Board of Visitors meets Friday.

The trio of schools would become SoCon members on July 1, 2014. The conference would have 10 members.

"The addition of these three institutions will solidify the Southern Conference and ensure our position as a vibrant league with a bright future," Iamarino said. "We are delighted to invite three quality institutions, two of which are returning to a home they previously enjoyed for many years.

"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."

ETSU, located in Johnson City, Tenn., was a SoCon member from 1978-2005 before it joined the Atlantic Sun Conference. The Buccaneers have 17 sports programs and will restart the football team, which was dropped in 2003, in time for the 2015 season.

Mercer, in Macon, Ga., is the last charter member of the Atlantic Sun and will add football this year in the non-scholarship Pioneer League, but will go to scholarships to join the SoCon. When it becomes a SoCon member, Mercer will have 18 sports programs.

VMI, the nation's first state-supported military college and located in Lexington, Va., was a SoCon member from 1924-2003 before departing for the Big South Conference. It has 18 sports programs, including football.

The SoCon is in transition. It is losing the College of Charleston to the Colonial Athletic Association later this year; Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, both FCS powers, to the Sun Belt Conference next year; and Davidson to the Atlantic 10 next year as well.

The SoCon's membership for the 2014-15 academic year will be as follows: The Citadel, East Tennessee State, Furman, Mercer, North Carolina-Greensboro, Samford, Chattanooga, VMI, Western Carolina and Wofford. UNG does not have a football program.