The main driving factor behind conference realignment is football. Football is what allows the schools above the Red Line to generate a revenue stream that Hoops Nation cannot match, thus allowing our schools below the Red Line to never be a threat. My alma mater High Point does not have football. Football is only good for mid-majors who wish to deplete their resources for basketball. FCS football minimizes mid-majors in all sports. The reason for the name change from 1-AA to Football Championship Subdivision is so that we mid-majors are not viewed as of being of a lesser Division I. But the reasons for having separate American-style football subdivisions reflect the reason for our struggle. It does not make much sense for members of Hoops Nation to emphasize an unfair game that they cannot win. Even when our mid-majors excel in FBS football, they are criticized for having risen by playing weaker opponents even though that is all they can play (aside from guarantee games). Yet many schools below the Red Line are driven by football as well. A good example is Charlotte starting football
and heading back to Conference USA. Old Dominion and a few teams from the Sun Belt will also join Conference USA as well. The Southern Conference requires all of its members to play football unless they are granted a special waiver.
So what my school High Point needs to do is to start its own conference. If we do not start a better conference, we will be left in the cold. Sometimes I am unsure if HPU would receive a Big South invitation if they were jumping to Division I today. What we need is a conference that only allows schools that emphasize other sports like basketball ahead of football. Such a conference would allow for non-football schools to grow in a college sports environment dominated by football. This will enable the schools to grow the sports they do have and be competitive in national tournaments against the football schools that do not emphasize basketball and other sports as much. This is especially needed in parts of the South that care most about football. Once when I asked Kyle in a ESPN chat where the best mid-major atmospheres in the South were, he responded by qualifying it saying that big-time football dominates the South. So it's time to have a conference for the more sensible schools of the South. So we will call this conference the Football Free South Conference.
Of course, the Football Free South Conference is just a hypothetical conference, like the rest in this challenge. When the Big South was formed in 1983, it took eight years for the conference to receive an automatic bid. The Great West is likely to never reach the status of having an automatic bid, as schools keep leaving for established conferences. High Point when it started its women's lacrosse team a few years ago was in the National Lacrosse Conference, a conference that only existed to give a conference schedule for schools in non-lacrosse conferences. When High Point won the NLC Tournament in its first season, it did not receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Women's Lacrosse Tournament. Now that the Big South will sponsor women's lacrosse, HPU will now be able to compete for an automatic bid. So any conference we create here would never happen because of the issue of the all-important automatic bid. But what if starting a new conference was easy? So with that, here is the Football Free South Conference:
Our first member is High Point
, because I am the creator of this conference and it is my school. High Point has gotten better in non-revenue lesser sports since I have graduated. The soccer and volleyball programs have shown much improvement in recent years. Basketball has the potential to be successful, if we can ever get a facility better than the Millis Center.
To keep an old but still somewhat new rivalry going, our second member is Winthrop
. The Winthrop-HPU rivalry can grow stronger in a conference where basketball is the priority. And that is the case for all sports as well, as Winthrop has solid facilities and a good foundation behind every program as it does not have football. Winthrop basketball has been less successful lately, but playing at the 6100 seat Winthrop Coliseum gives them lots of potential as we saw during the Gregg Marshall era.
But Winthrop no longer dominates in basketball. We must keep High Point in a conference with the team that has had the most success the last two years in the Big South. And that is our third member, UNC Asheville
. UNCA does not have much success in sports outside basketball, as the school somewhat deemphasizes athletics. But this is the right conference for them to grow in, and perhaps realize the potential in all sports.
The other Big South school with a recent tournament title is our fourth member, Radford
. Radford basketball seems to have its ups and downs. Some years Radford is at the top of its conference, other years at the bottom. Generally, the school seems to be the Winthrop of Virginia: a mid-size state school that emphasizes basketball with competitive teams in their other sports. Radford baseball, once awful, has improved in recent years. So Radford is a good fit here for the Football Free South Conference.
Our fifth member is a school that went a long time without any conference, that being Longwood
. The Lancers do not bring much success in sports to the table. Much of that is because the Big South was very reluctant for several years to accept another non-football member. But this is a conference that will be quick to accept Longwood right away. Longwood did have success this year in women's soccer, finishing third in the Big South. Enough time will get the rest of the Lancer teams on track to achieve in a non-football conference.
Our sixth member is Campbell
. I know some of you might say, "But Campbell has a football team that they care about!"
They do. But it is a football team they spend very cheaply on, playing in the non-scholarship Pioneer League. And even within the Pioneer League the Camels do terrible, having finished last this season with their lone win coming against sub-Black Line opponent UVA Wise. Meanwhile, Campbell also has a basketball team that has been gaining popularity. And the Camels are decent in most of their sports as well. Campbell is a good fit for the Football Free South Conference, and the football team would stay in the Pioneer League while moving here.
All of the teams here have been Big South schools. These are the Big South schools that fit with the original message of the conference. But the other half of the conference has gone the football route, and not done very well. So it is time to separate the two halves of the Big South, and pare the non-football schools with more comparable athletic programs. So let's find a quality non-football school in the region to go after.
That brings us to our seventh member, Davidson
. Davidson brings in a top-notch hoops program with mixed success in other sports. But the Davidson basketball team, with its Southern Conference titles and the legacy of Stephen Curry still recent enough, gives our new conference major relevance. Davidson basketball is who the rest of the conference will try to match. Like Campbell, Davidson has a football team in the non-scholarship Pioneer League. But Wildcat fans pay very little attention to their football team and are very basketball-oriented, making them the perfect Football Free South Conference member.
Our eighth member will give High Point a close local rival in UNC Greensboro
. The Spartans have tried to dodge scheduling HPU in recent years, and finally were convinced to come to the Millis Center this year. The athletic directors of the schools finally agreed to a mini-challenge this year
. Why not make the competition a conference rivalry? UNCG needs to realize that the Southern Conference they joined in 1997 is not above schools like High Point anymore. And High Point is a better local rivalry for the Spartans than Elon for many reasons. HPU is catching up with Elon in size, does not have football, and is located in Guilford County just like Greensboro. UNCG is a very similar school to Winthrop: both historically women's schools with solid athletic facilities for their sports without having football. UNCG very much belongs in the Football Free South Conference.
Our ninth member will be the other remaining SoCon school with a waiver to not play football, which is College of Charleston
. C of C is already very much aware of the Southern Conference focusing on football, and not enough on basketball. So the Cougars have decided to go the same route as the schools above the Red Line and join a conference that makes little geographic sense to them in the Colonial. In the Colonial, the Cougars will spend a lot more on travel, with athletes in all sports having less time for their academic work. And all for a conference that with its recent defections may soon be no better than other sub-Red Line conferences. Not to mention that the baseball program is unhappy by being grouped in with Northern schools that do not emphasize baseball. So this is the conference that the Cougars should be looking towards more. Less travel expenses, but more emphasis on the sports they do have.
C of C will be a geographic outlier in the Colonial with Georgia State leaving for the Sun Belt. There remains only one other school in the CAA south of Virginia, and that will be our tenth member in UNC Wilmington
. UNCW, like College of Charleston, has had some historical basketball success with a competitive baseball team. UNCW baseball could blossom in a conference without schools from the Northeast. And the Seahawks' basketball team could also do well once it recovers from APR sanctions. UNCW just does not have any local rivalries to boost their recognition in the South. The Football Free South Conference will change that.
Our 11th and final member is USC Upstate
. The Spartans are in the Atlantic Sun, which is way too travel intensive for its new to Division I members. The A-Sun stretches from the Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati all the way to southwestern Florida. Upstate would be much better suited for the Football Free South Conference, with no trip longer than six hours by bus. For the softball schools in the conference, Upstate provides a great softball team. Its soccer facilities are also above average as well. Basketball has gotten better with Torrey Craig, and might continue to improve if its proposed renovation of the tiny Hodge Center ever gets implemented.
So those are our members. Our TV pitch would be a local one, but it would be a strong local pitch. All fans of mid-major basketball in the Carolinas would want to see this conference. That is not a large enough group to get a large TV contract, but large TV contracts are not as prevalent on our side of the Red Line anyway. With this conference, we could get more money with fans traveling to away games. This would also enhance the atmosphere and make conference games intense. We could develop great rivalries, some of which already exist and others that could. As I mentioned before, High Point and UNC Greensboro would be the battle for Guilford County which would be better realized in this conference. There would also be potential for a Radford-Longwood rivalry, we will see if one develops in the Big South this season. Davidson-Winthrop already saw one intense battle between Stephen Curry and Gregg Marshall's best team in 2007; this conference could build up a better Metrolina rivalry. College of Charleston and UNC Wilmington could form a rivalry that might begin next season in the Colonial. Recently we also had a fantastic comeback on the road by USC Upstate to shock UNC Asheville. These schools are only 50 miles apart on I-26 and separated by mountains, this conference could make this potential rivalry a Blue Ridge Classic. These rivalries would be much better than most of what we currently see below the Red Line.
As I said before, such a conference would be illogical because of the lack of an automatic bid. UNCW fans proposed a similar conference on their message board a few years ago, but realized that this plan would not fly because of that. What we can hope for is that the Big South will move in this direction if it loses members in conference realignment alongside the Southern Conference. Liberty, Georgia Southern, and Appalachian State have expressed interest in joining FBS football conferences. Let these guys go chase football. And when they do, the Big South should let Coastal replace them in the SoCon, and any other Big South football school they might want. This is a fantasy conference, but it could be a great path for the current Big South to pursue if realignment continues to be football driven.