June 7, 2011

Seven break away from SCAC

Birmingham-Southern will be eligible for the NCAA playoffs this year. Next year they will no longer have a shot at an automatic bid, because their new league will have to go through a waiting period and won't have enough football teams to qualify for a bid.
Birmingham-Southern photo by Jimmy Mitchell 

Seven schools are breaking away from the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference and an eighth school is joining them to make a more geographically compact league.

With DePauw already leaving to join the North Coast Athletic Conference in the fall (football will join in 2012), the SCAC will have four schools remaining: Austin, Colorado College, Southwestern and Trinity (Texas). The University of Dallas joins the league this fall.

The schools joining the new league submitted a letter of resignation to the SCAC at conference meetings in Atlanta on June 7. Those are Birmingham-Southern, Centre, Hendrix, Millsaps, Oglethorpe, Rhodes and Sewanee. Berry College, a provisional Division III member in Georgia, is the eighth school.

They are leaving the SCAC following the 2011-12 season. It's the second major disruption to the South Region this offseason, following the departure of Great South Athletic Conference members LaGrange, Maryville (Tenn.) and Piedmont for the USA South.  

The remaining five members of the SCAC have already been approached by potential new members, and have established a long-range goal of creating an eight to 10 member conference. The SCAC name, its history as well as key NCAA conference designations like automatic qualifications for its champions, shall be retained by these institutions.

“The SCAC has been around for 50 years,” said commissioner Dwayne Hanberry, who has elected to remain with the conference. “The league has gone through numerous membership changes and each transformation of the conference has ultimately made it a stronger entity. I am confident, as are the five presidents, that the SCAC will re-establish itself and continue to function as one of the most academically and athletically desirable destinations for Division III student-athletes in the nation.”

 “Obviously, this news puts Trinity and the remaining members of the SCAC in a difficult situation,” said Trinity athletic director Bob King, “but we feel confident that under the leadership of commissioner Dwayne Hanberry that we will pull through this, and eventually, be better than ever.”

“We’re going from a three time-zone league to a two time-zone league,” Hendrix athletic director Danny Powell told the Log Cabin Democrat. “Some of us have talked about it for some time and several of the presidents got together and said they were going to do something about it. The new league will have all the teams in contiguous states, all within about a 500-mile radius, which means all trips can be charter bus trips. It should keep missed class time to a minimum. We can probably go to a Friday-Saturday schedule in basketball instead of Friday-Sunday and avoid the student-athletes getting back to campus at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. on Monday morning.”

“Every effort will be made to find like-minded institutions interested in building upon the very positive feedback that was received from the conference-wide student-athlete survey done in 2009,” Hanberry said. “The survey indicated a high satisfaction rate among student-athletes with regard to providing a competitive experience at the highest level; that the competitive model still allowed student-athletes to focus on their academic life, and that scheduling models were quite suitable to the management of their overall collegiate experience.”

King said: “Trinity’s goal is to continue to be a nationally-competitive athletics program, and we hope that new members of the SCAC will have similar goals. We are already looking at ways to develop competitive schedules in all sports for the future. We are open to any and all possibilities moving forward.”

In 2014-15, the new league would qualify for an automatic bid in any sport where it has seven members. Although Hendrix announced several years ago it would add football, and committed to doing so by 2013 in preparation for joining the new conference, the league would only have six football programs. Berry and Oglethorpe do not sponsor the sport.

Jay Gardiner, who currently serves as athletics director at Oglethorpe, will serve as the new conference’s interim commissioner.

While the SCAC would qualify for a two-year grace period from the NCAA to retain their automatic bid, the five remaining members have very few options to bolster their numbers, at least among current Division III free agents. Huntingdon, the sole remaining full Division III member in the GSAC with men's and women's sports, could move. The GSAC also has four women's schools. Covenant is a provisional Division III member in the GSAC with both men and women, while Rust is an independent in Mississippi which doesn't sponsor football. 

Austin and Trinity are the only schools of the five remaining in the SCAC which sponsor football and may have to hope for affiliate membership for that sport in another league in order to create a full schedule and have access to an automatic bid.

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