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Monday, May 27, 2013

SoCon Becomes the Big East--Only Worse

We should have seen it coming. That's what Southern Conference fans are saying right now. It's too bad that the conference leadership isn't saying the same thing, and that they weren't paying attention prior to the crash.

There are two kinds of car accidents. The first is the one where you get blindsided, where the unexpected happens. A tire blows out, the brakes fail, or the car stalls on the railroad tracks. You can't see any of that coming, unless you're watching an old Abbot and Costello movie.

Then there's the second kind. You pull out without looking. You weren't paying attention. You saw the flashing lights and safety bars come down across the tracks, but you decided to weave through them before the train arrived. If you get hit in those circumstances, you've only got one person to blame.

Southern Conference commishioner John Iamarino sounds like an idealist caught off-guard by the freight train when he talks about the demise of the Southern Conference. Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, College of Charleston, Davidson, and Elon just ran him over like Denzel Washington in that ridiculous Unstoppable movie.

But Iamarino has no one to blame for himself, because he had plenty of warning that this train was coming. He simply chose to keep driving in spite of the flashing lights. This was no blindside. This was inevitable, and he did little or nothing to prepare for impact.

Georgia Southern and Appalachian State have talked for years about moving to the FBS. In fact, this has been the goal of our "friends" from Statesboro for more than 20 years, from the time they entered the SoCon. It wasn't new, and it wasn't news. The train was coming.

Davidson has talked for several years about getting into a stronger basketball league. If those three dominoes topple, then it would be inevitable that others would fall. So there really is no case for being surprised by College of Charleston or Elon.

Iamarino seemed to believe that geography, academic commitment and tradition would save the SoCon. In other words, he seemed to be mentally on a beach in Maui while his conference was turning into downtown Detroit.

If those things couldn't preserve the Big East or the Big 12 or the Big 10 as we know it, then why would we be foolish enough to think they would save the Southern Conference? No league values tradition more than the Big 10, and even they've abandoned that idealism. Could the FCS really be immune to the big money-grab?

The Commissioner and his people should have seen it, but they just weren't looking. If the departures were inevitable, he needed to spend his time scouring the southeast to pull in schools and athletic departments that could match what was leaving.

Instead, the SoCon is left with East Tennessee State and VMI, both of whom previously departed the conference. ETSU doesn't have a football team (yet) and they've never had a real football stadium. Just ask anyone who ever played in the "Mini-Dome".

VMI hasn't had a winning season in football in 32 years.

Mercer is a formidable candidate, but they are entering their first season of football and have yet to clearly define when they will begin scholarship football. There is now talk of UNC-Asheville as a basketball power to replace Davidson. Really? Are they even in the same neighborhood?

At the least, Iamarino should be booking a flight to Nashville and showing up at Belmont's door with flowers, nylons and a box of chocolates. This isn't about dignity anymore, but about survival.

The Commish can talk all he wants to about idealism in college athletics, but it doesn't change the fact that he's living in a Fool's Paradise. It's just no longer a reality, and perhaps it never was.

The train that hit the SoCon has been coming down the tracks for a long time, and Iamarino wasn't looking. He couldn't stop it, but he surely could've taken steps to minimize the damage. Instead, he chose to ignore the warnings.

Now, he is left to clean up the mess of the accident, and he has no one but himself to blame. But the rest of the schools and their fans are the ones who will suffer.

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