When I woke up Tuesday morning, I glanced through the lines on each college basketball game posted. I saw that Vegas had posted some lines on some mid-major games, and looked to see the line of the game I was going to tonight. Then I realized that while SoCon games are usually posted, there would be no line on the game because the Citadel played Coastal Carolina from the Big South. The Big South, despite being Division I, is apparently considered less of a conference than even the Southern Conference.
There definitely seems to be a perception that the Southern Conference, a mid-major conference with a similar geographic footprint as the Big South, is the better conference. Local media reports tend to favor the SoCon schools, and Coastal Carolina, for a while, showed interest in joining the SoCon as a means of "moving up". Yet aside from the 2008 Davidson team and Stephen Curry, the recent success of the SoCon and Big South is not much different. Occasionally both conferences will pull off a Red Line Upset but, for the most part, usually lose. The Southern Conference usually ranks higher in the RPI, but not by much. Much of ties back into the argument Kyle deeply hates: "What is a mid-major?" Some teams in the Atlantic 10 (14) hate being called a mid-major because they feel that they are better. Now we have some conferences not being called mid-majors because it is too much of a compliment. As Kyle says, we are all in this together and the results below the Red Line are fairly similar throughout. I once had to edit a Wikipedia article that said that Charleston Southern hosts games at the North Charleston Coliseum against "major and mid-major competition", when in reality CSU is only hosting College of Charleston and The Citadel at the Coliseum as local opponents. This notion that there is much difference between the SoCon and Big South makes me feel the same way Kyle does about Red Line arguments.
So why is there this notion that the Southern Conference is better than the Big South? The first reason is that most of the schools in the Southern Conference are more established. The SoCon was once a major conference before 1950 when it lost teams to the ACC, and has always been around as a conference. The Big South was first formed in 1983 and did not get an automatic bid until 1991. The 1980s Big South was fairly similar to today's Great West: mostly small schools that had recently made the jump to Division I and of provisional status. Some relics remain from that era in today's Big South. Coastal Carolina, despite success in the 1990s and winning the last two regular season titles, has the second smallest arena in Division I that seats only 1,000 people. The smallest arena is also in the conference in Charleston Southern, an arena that doesn't even seat 900 people. And until this year, UNC Asheville continued that list with the third smallest Division I arena. Small gyms and a lack of established tradition have made the Big South look like the weaker mid-major in the eyes of many.
The other reason is American-style football. The Southern Conference in football is far better than the Big South. The Southern Conference has been in the running for FCS (I-AA) national titles, while a Big South team has yet to reach the quarterfinals. Historically Big South schools have not fielded football, as my alma mater High Point does not. Football in the eyes of many in this region is the king and basketball success is irrelevant. Aside from College of Charleston, Davidson, and UNC Greensboro, most schools in the SoCon heavily emphasize football over basketball. Both conferences have had similar success in other sports recently and are both competitive mid-majors in baseball. Currently however 6 of the 11 conference members of the Big South field a football team. This does not count Campbell, which has a non-scholarship football program. The Big South has made a priority of accepting new members who have football. Focusing on football could be a dangerous move for the Big South. The conference is not established in the sport and trying to focus on it could put the conference right where it was in the 1980s.
Coastal Carolina, playing at the Citadel tonight, is one Big South school that has changed a lot in the past 20 years. Back in the early days of the conference, Coastal was a basketball school. But as the school expanded and got money associated with being the Division I school for the Myrtle Beach area, the Chants became successful in all sports and added football in 2002. Basketball was dangerously close to being an afterthought until Cliff Ellis stepped in and helped the Chants become established again in basketball. Now the 1,000 seat Kimbel Arena is sold out every game and Coastal has pulled off two Red Line Upsets this season over Clemson and LSU. Tonight they would come to the Citadel, a school that aside from success Ed Conroy recently had does not care a whole lot about basketball. Football is the number one sport at the Citadel, with baseball second.
So despite the SoCon supposedly being better, there was never any doubt which team was better here. Only 1400 people showed up at the 6,000 seat McAlister Field House, 3 of which being 800 Game Project participants. There weren't many games this week with some schools having final exams, so this was pretty much the Division I game in the state for the week. The Bulldogs could not get any defensive stops early and Coastal would lead by 16 at the under 8 timeout and were up 20 at halftime. Home court advantage did not seem to matter for the Bulldogs, although some Cadets were creative in how they dressed up to distract Coastal players. One cadet dressed in a mask and cape, while another wore a full body gray spandex suit underneath regular Citadel clothing. Coastal had just as easy time winning here as Clemson did and would win 80-58 in another routine game at McAlister Field House.
The Big South was clearly better tonight. The arguments between conferences are too divisive among us below the Red Line, so Big South, SoCon, and all other conferences need to unite as we are all mid-majors.
COASTAL CAROLINA 80, at THE CITADEL 58 12/06/2011
COASTAL CAROLINA 8-1 (2-0) -- C. Smith 0-2 0-0 0; C. Gradnigo 4-15 4-4 12; A. Raffa 13-19 0-1 28; K. Greenwood 5-8 0-0 10; J. Pack 2-2 4-8 8; W. Gillis 4-5 0-0 8; D. Moore 3-3 0-0 8; S. McLaurin 1-3 0-0 2; B. Crawford 1-1 0-1 2; J. Griffin 0-3 0-0 0; B. Addey 1-1 0-1 2; C. Ashford 0-0 0-0 0; R. Berry 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-60 8-15 80. THE CITADEL 2-6 (0-2) -- B. Smith 4-9 4-4 15; M. Groselle 4-12 0-0 8; D. Wright 4-8 0-1 10; P. Horgan 1-3 1-2 3; L. Miller 2-6 0-0 6; A. Moore 2-6 2-2 7; M. Harris III 1-3 0-0 2; C. Bray 1-1 1-2 4; B. Holston 0-1 0-0 0; C. Morabbi 1-4 1-2 3. Totals 20-53 9-13 58.
Three-point goals: CCU 4-11 (C. Gradnigo 0-3; A. Raffa 2-4; D. Moore 2-2; J. Griffin 0-1; W. Gillis 0-1), CITA 9-20 (C. Morabbi 0-2; B. Holston 0-1; B. Smith 3-5; D. Wright 2-2; C. Bray 1-1; M. Harris III 0-1; L. Miller 2-4; A. Moore 1-4); Rebounds: CCU 35 (J. Pack 8), CITA 21 (B. Smith 5); Assists: CCU 9 (A. Raffa 4), CITA 10 (M. Harris III 3); Total Fouls -- CCU 16, CITA 13; Fouled Out: CCU-None; CITA-None.