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The Institute's Board of Visitors elects to leave the Big South after the upcoming season.
Saturday, June 1, 2013
Finally, it’s official: VMI is heading back to the Southern Conference.
In a decision that caught no one off guard, Gen.J.H. Binford Peay, VMI’s superintendent, announced Friday afternoon that the school’s Board of Visitors had voted to accept an invitation for full membership from the league starting with the 2014-15 academic year.
“We are extremely excited to return to the Southern Conference,” Peay said in a school release. “While we’ve enjoyed our associated with the Big South Conference and it wish it every success, this is the right move for VMI.”
The Lexington-based military institute was a member of the Southern Conference from 1924 to 2003 before moving to the Big South. With the exceptions of wrestling, which remained an associate member with the SoCon, all of VMI’s athletics teams have competed in the Big South since the school joined the league on July 1, 2003.
Keydets athletic director Donny White, who recently announced he will retire later this year, said Friday’s news should bring happiness to many of VMI’s alumni and fans.
“It’s certainly a nostalgic feeling for a number of people because it’s all they knew … I mean we were in the Southern Conference for 79 years,” White said. “So, obviously, it’s a lot of joy from those people, the VMI alums and fans of VMI who remember competing against Furman and The Citadel, and going back to a conference they are familiar with.”
White said he informed Big South Commissioner Kyle Kallander following the board’s decision that the school will be leaving the league following next season.
“First of all, Kyle Kallander, I think he’s a terrific commissioner,” White said. “He said he’s disappointed. We’ve talked about this throughout the week that this vote is going to be taken and more than likely that VMI is going to accept the membership if offered, so Kyle was prepared for that.”
White confirmed that VMI will have to pay a $100,000 exit fee to the Big South. White added it’s “his anticipation” that all of the Keydets’ athletics teams will remain championship eligible in their final season in the league.
In the end, VMI officials had to think the Southern Conference remains the most stable of the two loops. With Stony Brook exiting for the Colonial Athletic Association this fall, the Big South will contain only six football-playing members this fall.
Including nonfootball member College of Charleston, which will join the CAA this fall, and Davidson, which is ticketed for the Atlantic 10 in 2014, the SoCon has lost has lost five schools to other leagues in the past six months in the seismic shuffling of conference affiliations. Longtime FCS powers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are headed to the FBS Sun Belt in 2014, plus Elon will join the CAA in 2014.
“The stability that we think the Southern Conference projects with the schools that we feel are committed to staying in the Southern Conference and building a different Southern Conference from what it was, we feel pretty good about that,” White said.
“No question that stability and the schools that we feel we can identify with academically and size-wise. Naturally, I’m talking about the small, private schools that are in the Southern Conference as well as The Citadel, which is a small school.
“Plus, there’s no question that with Appalachian State and Georgia Southern leaving … from a football perspective, the Southern Conference is going to be a different conference. I would think we would be more competitive [in football].”
Reuniting with old SoCon rivals, The Citadel and Furman, also should help spur more interest in VMI football, White said.
“We hope so. It certainly helps when you win your football games and more people show up the next week,” White said. “We’ve certainly got to do our part.”
Southern Conference Commissioner John Iamarino, whose league also welcomed new invitees Mercer and East Tennessee State for 2014-15 on Thursday, said that he thinks VMI can be very competitive in football in the league.
“They are quite aware that football is very important at VMI and certainly through the Southern Conference,” Iamarino said. “I’ve often said and it’s true, I believe, that nobody joins a conference to be the doormat. I know that’s the case with all of these three. Everybody is going to be competitive, and we hope that being in the Southern Conference will aid recruiting efforts at VMI and at Mercer and ETSU, and we trust that will be the case.”
Sparky Woods, who will begin his sixth season as VMI’s football coach this fall, knows the SoCon well. He was a three-time coach of the year from 1985-87 at Appalachian State.
“I know that we probably went to the Big South for some very good reasons,” Woods said. “I would like to be more competitive in the Big South, so this year gives us that opportunity to do that and we need to take advantage of that.
“That said, I am excited about the Southern, it seems to be our roots there. There’s a lot of reasons to go back. I just see much more commonality of purpose in these schools, so that sounds like a good move at the right time.”
In basketball, VMI will be entering a league that recently lost its top two programs, Davidson and College of Charleston.
“The Big South was good to us, I enjoyed my eight years there,” said Keydets coach Duggar Baucom, whose teams have advanced to the league’s title game three times. “I am very familiar with the Southern having been at Davidson and Western Carolina as an assistant coach.
“I hope it will be a very smooth transition for us. It will be a new challenge for us, a new experience and I’m excited about it, and hopefully we can remain competitive.”
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