It is stunning just how inept the Southern Conference has looked in the last year. In the 80s, it was considered the best football conference in The-Artist-Formerly-Known-As-IAA. In the 90s, it was considered at least among the best, even after Marshall (or Marsha to their SoCon opponents) left for Division I.
Even after the name change to FCS, it has battled the Colonial Athletic Association for football supremacy. Now, it looks a lot more like the old SAC-8 from NAIA. And it's not just because Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are leaving.
It starts with that, in a sense, because SoCon leaders seemed under-prepared to deal with those inevitable departures. Conference officials came across as scrambling, in spite of the annual signs that those departures were a matter of "When" rather than "If".
This fall, the conference website actually listed these teams in its preseason rankings when they're not even eligible to win the league title! As noted by Jeff Hartsell of the Charleston Post and Courier, this was a bone-headed move of monumental proportions.
(I must say that I am rather please with the way Furman handled the preseason listings on its website furmanpaladins.com. See GSU or AppSt anywhere?).
But as long as we're on the subject, why is the Conference allowing Elon and Davidson to continue competing for titles?
GSU and ASU cannot--at least in football--because of a scholarship discrepancy as they move to FBS. To me, none of these teams should be eligible for a SoCon title, much less a mention on the league's preseason rankings. They shouldn't even be on the ballot.
There are probably a thousand reasons why the league is treating these teams as "equals" in spite of their departure, but none of those reasons make it right.
Sure, everyone knew that the two "big boys" would eventually take this route. But why should the league offer a chance at a championship to two teams that just chose to leave? Especially Davidson, who essentially blindsided the league office with their decision?
The SoCon coddled the Wildcats for years while they couldn't field a reasonably competitive football team. Then, they went out and got more non-football schools in an effort to make them feel that they were pretty enough, smart enough, and doggone it people liked them. Elon was a virtual unknown when the league took a chance and opened the door for them to make the move to competitive FCS football.
Those schools owe nothing to the SoCon for this; but the SoCon owes nothing to them, either. The league needs to move right now to re-brand and boost the schools that chose to stay or that have accepted the invitation to enter/return.
In fact, if I was John Iamarino, I would get Mercer, VMI, and East Tennessee onto the SoCon site as soon as possible. Why not list them in the standings as "ineligible" or "future" members? Play with the cards you're dealt, stop worrying about the discarded ones.
Sour grapes, here? Absolutely. If you don't want to be in the league, then don't let the door hit you...and go through it as soon as possible. Teams have every right to do what's best for their athletic programs and move on to new territory. But conferences have an obligation to make the teams that stay their first and foremost priority.
To me, that means reserving championships for teams that will continue to be a part of the Southern Conference. The sooner they let go of the past, the better prepared the league will be for the future.
No matter what the logic or practical reasons, it will stink on ice if one of these teams gets a hollow trophy as a reward on their way out the door.