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A New Southern Conference

By Russell V.
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On Wednesday, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will reportedly announce that they have accepted an invitation to move up to the FBS and join the Sun Belt Conference.

It has been a long time coming, but the day has finally arrived.

On Wednesday, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will reportedly announce that they have accepted an invitation to move up to the FBS and join the Sun Belt Conference. The schools will join the Sun Belt for all sports but football in 2014, with the football programs joining in 2015. Neither school will be eligible for postseason football during that time.

With this announcement, it is a dark day for not just the Southern Conference, but all of the Football Championship Subdivision.

Combined, the two schools have 22 SoCon championships and nine national titles. They are two of the strongest programs in the nation today. The Eagles helped set the standard by which FCS teams are judged, while the Mountaineers put the FCS in the national spotlight with their upset of Michigan. With the loss of these two programs, the overall quality of all of the FCS decreases.

But this move should not take anyone by surprise. For years now, both Georgia Southern and Appalachian State have made their motives very clear – they were done with the Southern Conference and with the FCS, ready to move on to bigger and better things.

Why, though? Why leave what they helped create? Why abandon a chance to be national title contenders year in and year out?

Perhaps they have grown tired of being big fish in a little pond. For too long, FCS football has been seen as inferior and a downgrade from the Football Bowl Subdivision, causing many around the nation to pay little attention to it. The Mountaineers and Eagles wanted out and wanted to compete with the best of the best in the FBS. They had grown weary of the small school mentality of the Southern Conference and the FCS, craving the national spotlight and money that playing at the highest level can bring.

There are those that question the move though. Is fighting year in and year out for a chance to play in a lower-tier bowl game better than challenging for a national title? Is the money worth forsaking the traditions and rivalries that took years to set up in the FCS? Many impartial viewers from the outside scratch their heads at the move, wondering if it is worth it.

It was around a year or two ago that I wrote how, if given the opportunity, Appalachian State should make the move to the FBS. They had already accomplished all there is to accomplish at this level of football and could not make the next step until they got rid of the I-AA stigma that follows their football program. The same goes for Georgia Southern, arguably the best program in the history of the FCS.

The question now becomes where does the SoCon go from here? It is a dangerous time for the conference, as Appalachian State and Georgia Southern join the College of Charleston as schools leaving the Southern Conference. On top of that, rumors continue to swirl that other schools may join in the exodus. Sources say that Chattanooga was even considered for an invite to the Sun Belt.

The SoCon athletic directors do not meet until April 10. Until then, confidence must be injected into the remaining schools about the current and long-term sustainability of the conference. The Southern Conference as we currently know it is done and will forever change. 

So who will take the place of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern? It didn’t take long for names to start being thrown around. Among the schools – Kennesaw State, Mercer, VMI and Coastal Carolina. It is impossible to replace what the Mountaineers and Eagles have done for the conference, but the SoCon can hope to forge a new identity and begin to form a new legacy.

The old days of the Southern Conference are gone. A new Southern Conference is coming.

Russell V. - A recent graduate of Elon University, Varner is a Southern Conference enthusiast who now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. His love for SoCon football can only be matched by his love for Carolina Panthers football. He has been published in multiple newspapers in North Carolina, has worked on television and radio and now covers SoCon football for Southern Pigskin.