The Southern Conference
The Southern Conference, which is in its 96th season of intercollegiate competition in 2016-17, is a national leader in emphasizing the development of the student-athlete and in helping to build lifelong leaders and role models.
The Southern Conference has been on the forefront of innovation and originality in developing creative solutions to address issues facing intercollegiate athletics. From establishing the first postseason college basketball tournament (1921), to tackling the issue of freshman eligibility (1922), to developing women’s championships (1984), to becoming the first conference to install the 3-point goal in basketball (1980), the Southern Conference has been a pioneer.
The Southern Conference is the nation’s fifth-oldest NCAA Division I collegiate athletic association. Only the Big Ten (1896), the Missouri Valley (1907), the Pac-12 (1915) and the Southwestern Athletic (1920) conferences are older in terms of origination.
Academic excellence has been a major part of the Southern Conference’s tradition. Hundreds of Southern Conference student-athletes have been recognized on CoSIDA Academic All-America and all-district teams. A total of 20 Rhodes Scholarship winners have been selected from conference institutions, most recently in 2012-13, when former Wofford volleyball player Rachel Woodlee earned the prestigious award.
The conference currently consists of 10 members in six states throughout the Southeast and sponsors 21 varsity sports and championships that produce participants for NCAA Division I Championships. The league added rifle, becoming just the second Division I conference to sponsor the sport, in 2016-17.
The Southern Conference offices are located in the historic Beaumont Mill in Spartanburg, S.C. A textile mill that was in operation from 1880 until 1999, Beaumont Mill was renovated in 2004 and today offers the league first-class meeting areas and offices as well as a spacious library for storage of the conference’s historical documents.
On Feb. 25, 1921, representatives from 14 of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s (SIAA) 30 members met at Atlanta’s Piedmont Hotel to establish the Southern Intercollegiate Conference. On hand at the inaugural meeting were officials from Alabama, Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn), Clemson, Georgia, Georgia School of Technology (Georgia Tech), Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi A&M (Mississippi State), North Carolina, North Carolina State, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) and Washington & Lee.
Dr. S.V. Sanford of Georgia was chosen as acting chairman and N.W. Dougherty of Tennessee was named secretary. The decision to form a new athletic conference was motivated by the desire to have a workable number of conference games for each league member. With 30 schools in the SIAA by the early 1920s, it was impossible to play every school at least once during the regular season and many schools went several years between playing some conference members. In addition, in 1920, the SIAA voted down proposed rules that an athlete must be in a college a year before playing on its teams and refused to abolish a rule permitting athletes to play summer baseball for money.
Play began in the fall of 1921, and a year later, six more schools joined the fledgling league, including Tulane (which had attended the inaugural meeting but had elected not to join), Florida, Louisiana (LSU), Mississippi, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. VMI joined in 1925 and Duke was added in 1929.
By the 1930s, membership in the Southern Conference had reached 23 schools. C.P. “Sally” Miles of Virginia Tech, president of the Southern Conference, called the annual league meeting to order on Dec. 9, 1932, at the Farragut Hotel in Knoxville, Tenn. Georgia’s Dr. Sanford announced that 13 institutions west and south of the Appalachian Mountains were reorganizing as the Southeastern Conference. Members of the new league included Alabama, Alabama Polytechnic Institute, Florida, Georgia, Georgia School of Technology, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Mississippi A&M, University of the South, Tennessee, Tulane and Vanderbilt.
According to the minutes of the meeting, Dr. Sanford stated that the division was made along geographical lines. Florida’s Dr. J.J. Tigert, acting as spokesman for the withdrawing group, regretted the move but believed it was necessary as the Southern Conference had grown too large. The resignations were accepted and the withdrawing schools formed the new league, which began play in 1933.
The Southern Conference continued with membership of 10 institutions, including Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Virginia, VMI, Virginia Tech and Washington & Lee.
The second major shift occurred some 20 years later. By 1952, the Southern Conference included 17 colleges and universities. Another split occurred when seven schools – Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina and Wake Forest – departed to form the Atlantic Coast Conference, which began play in 1953. The revamped Southern Conference included members The Citadel, Davidson, Furman, George Washington, Richmond, VMI, Virginia Tech, Washington & Lee, West Virginia and William & Mary.
A third major shift occurred in 2012-13, when five members announced their departures and three schools were added. College of Charleston announced its decision to leave for the Colonial Athletic Association following the 2012-13 season, while Appalachian State (Sun Belt), Davidson (Atlantic 10), Elon (Colonial) and Georgia Southern (Sun Belt) announced they would depart following the 2013-14 campaign. At the Southern Conference’s 2013 spring meetings in Hilton Head Island, S.C., the league officially extended invitations to former members ETSU and VMI, as well as Mercer, to join the league for the 2014-15 academic year.
Today, the league continues to thrive with a membership that includes 10 institutions and a footprint that spans six states: Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Current league members are The Citadel, ETSU, Furman, Mercer, UNCG, Samford, Chattanooga, VMI, Western Carolina and Wofford.
John Iamarino was officially named commissioner of the conference on Jan. 2, 2006. Iamarino has promoted the Southern Conference through an ambitious agenda that has improved championships, upgraded compliance-related matters, launched the conference’s Hall of Fame, created the SoCon Academic Exchange and increased the marketing and brand awareness of the conference and its member institutions. He has also guided the league through its recent membership changes, ensuring the Southern Conference’s future viability and stability with the additions of ETSU, Mercer and VMI.
The eighth commissioner in Southern Conference history, Iamarino spearheaded the effort to create the SoCon Digital Network, which launched in the fall of 2014, and the league-wide plan to have all 10 member institutions capable of producing ESPN3-ready content by 2017.
Iamarino also orchestrated the addition of the league’s 20th sport, men’s lacrosse, for the 2014-15 academic year, attracting associate members Bellarmine, High Point, Jacksonville and Richmond in the inaugural year and adding Air Force beginning with the 2016 season. Iamarino would also lead efforts to sponsor rifle beginning in 2016-17, with associate members UAB, Georgia Southern and North Georgia joining full members The Citadel, VMI and Wofford to form a six-member conference.
The Southern Conference named its first commissioner in December 1950. Duke’s Wallace Wade made the transition from Blue Devil football coach to athletics administration as the first person at the helm of the conference.
Lloyd Jordan replaced Wade as the commissioner in 1960 and served a 14-year term until Ken Germann became the league head in 1974. Germann was the commissioner for 13 years and orchestrated the league’s expansion to include women’s athletics. In 1987, he was succeeded by Dave Hart, who oversaw the transfer of the league office from Charlotte, N.C., to Asheville, N.C.
Wright Waters succeeded Hart upon his retirement in 1991. Under Waters’ leadership, the Southern Conference expanded to 12 members, added three women’s sports and posted record revenue from the basketball tournament. Waters was followed by Alfred B. White in 1998. White, a veteran member of the NCAA office, introduced the current conference logo and elevated the conference’s commitment to marketing and development of corporate partners.
Danny Morrison, now president of the Carolina Panthers, headed the conference from 2001-05 and orchestrated the league’s move from Asheville, N.C., to Spartanburg, S.C. Under Morrison’s leadership, the conference increased its marketing and promotional efforts.
The first Southern Conference Championship held after the formation of the league was the basketball tournament in Atlanta in 1922. The North Carolina Tar Heels won the tournament to become the first recognized league champion in any sport. The Southern Conference tournament remains the oldest of its kind in college basketball. The most recent SoCon addition, rifle, will crown its first champion in March 2017.
Commissioner Germann spearheaded the Southern Conference’s expansion to include women’s athletics during the 1983-84 season. That year, league women’s championships were held in volleyball, basketball and tennis. Cross country joined the mix in 1985, outdoor track and field was added in 1987 and indoor and track and field followed in 1988. Most recently, the conference instituted golf and softball championships in the spring of 1994 and added soccer in the fall of 1994.
The Germann Cup, named in honor of the former commissioner, annually recognizes the top women’s athletics programs in the conference. From its humble beginnings, women’s athletics have become an integral part of the Southern Conference and its success.
The Southern Conference declares champions in 11 men’s sports – football, soccer, cross country, basketball, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, wrestling, baseball, lacrosse, tennis and golf – and nine women’s sports – soccer, volleyball, cross country, basketball, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, tennis, golf and softball. Rifle is a mixed sport.
The Southern Conference has also excelled as the premier Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) conference. Former Southern Conference member Appalachian State won the three consecutive FCS titles from 2005-07, becoming the first team to do so. The league boasts more than 250 players who have garnered All-America recognition and numerous national player or coach of the year awards. The conference had at least one team in the top 10 of the final FCS poll for 28 consecutive years (1985-2012), with at least two teams finishing in the final poll in every season from 1982-2013. Three SoCon teams – tri-champions Furman, Samford and Chattanooga – finished in the top 25 in 2013, while the Mocs finished in the top 10 in each of the last two seasons and The Citadel finished in the top 15 in 2015.
The conference has placed multiple representatives in the FCS Playoffs in 27 of 32 seasons, with 16 championship game appearances and eight national titles. The Southern Conference has had at least one team reach the semifinals in 12 of the last 17 years and in 18 of the last 24 seasons.
In 2007, Appalachian State became the first FCS team to defeat a nationally ranked Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team, when the Mountaineers defeated No. 5 Michigan, 34-32, on Sept. 1 before a sellout crowd at Michigan Stadium. Georgia Southern, in its final game as a member of the Southern Conference, downed the SEC’s Florida in Gainesville. The league picked up two wins over FBS teams in 2015, with Furman downing UCF and The Citadel stunning South Carolina.
Prior to the conference’s reclassification in 1981, Southern Conference football teams appeared in a total of 36 bowl games, posting a record of 16-18-2. From 1925-30, league schools won five football national championships in a six-year span. There are nearly 60 former Southern Conference players and coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame. One of the most recognizable of these names is former North Carolina running back Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice, who helped guide North Carolina to three bowl appearances. He was a first-team All-America selection and the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1948 and 1949. In 1949, Justice earned first-team all-conference honors for the fourth consecutive season, becoming the first player in league history to achieve that feat. He was a member of the league’s inaugural Hall of Fame Class in 2009.
Another of the league’s football products that made it to the College Football Hall of Fame is Sam Huff of West Virginia. Huff was a three-year starter on both the offensive and defensive lines for the Mountaineers. In 1955, Huff earned first-team All-America honors on the field and was a first-team Academic All-American for his work in the classroom. He played 12 seasons in the National Football League for the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins. Also a member of the conference’s first Hall of Fame class, he was a five-time All-Pro linebacker and is also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The newest addition was former Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore, who was enshrined in December 2014. The winningest coach in Appalachian State and Southern Conference history, Moore compiled a 215-87 record in his 24 seasons at Appalachian State (1989-2012), including 10 SoCon championships, 18 postseason appearances and an unprecedented three straight NCAA Division I FCS/I-AA national titles (2005-07).
In recent years, the Southern Conference has continued to produce outstanding student-athletes. In 1999, Georgia Southern’s Adrian Peterson captured the Walter Payton Award, presented annually to the Football Championship Subdivision’s most outstanding offensive player. Furman’s Louis Ivory was awarded the honor in 2000, Georgia Southern’s Jayson Foster was presented with the 2007 trophy and most recently, Appalachian State’s record-setting quarterback Armanti Edwards became the first two-time winner in Payton Award history after claiming the honors in 2008 and 2009.
Appalachian State’s Dexter Coakley was a three-time all-conference selection and consensus All-American in 1994, ’95 and ’96 before going on to stardom with the Dallas Cowboys. Coakley won a pair of Buck Buchanan Awards, given to Football Championship Subdivision’s top defensive player each year. Terrell Owens went from catching passes at Chattanooga to a stellar NFL career. Western Carolina’s David Patten and Appalachian State’s Matt Stevens were both members of the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl champion team in 2002 and Patten also earned Super Bowl rings with the Patriots in 2004 and ’05. Appalachian State’s Daniel Kilgore appeared in Super Bowl XLVII for the San Francisco 49ers in 2013.
Men’s basketball was the first sport in which the conference held a championship. The league tournament is the nation’s oldest, with the inaugural championship after the formation of the league held at Atlanta’s City Auditorium in 1922 and won by North Carolina.
Not only was the Southern Conference tournament the first of its kind, but the league also helped change the face of college basketball. In 1980, the league began a season-long experiment with a 22-foot 3-point field goal with the approval of the NCAA Rules Committee. Ronnie Carr of Western Carolina made the first 3-point field goal in college basketball history in a game against Middle Tennessee State on Nov. 29, 1980.
Another college basketball tradition that originated in the Southern Conference is the traditional cutting of the nets by the winning team in important tournaments. According to USA Today, the practice of net-cutting originated in 1947 with NC State head coach Everett Case. As a first-year head coach, Case led the Wolfpack to the Southern Conference Tournament title. Case celebrated by claiming the nets as a souvenir to commemorate the event.
Basketball coaching legend Red Auerbach gave credit to former George Washington coach Bill Reinhart, who coached in the conference for nearly 30 years, as one of the originators of the modern fast-break.
West Virginia’s 10 tournament championships rank as the second-most in league history behind Davidson’s 12. The Mountaineers were led by the incomparable Jerry West from 1958 through 1960. West, a two-time All-America selection, spurred West Virginia to the Final Four in 1959. The Mountaineers lost in the championship game that season to California, 71-70, but West earned Final Four Most Valuable Player honors. West was a three-time Southern Conference tournament MVP, a two-time league regular-season MVP, and was twice named the conference’s Athlete of the Year. He went on to a spectacular career with the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979. He was a 14-time NBA All-Star while with the Lakers. It is West’s silhouette that comprises the NBA’s globally recognized logo.
Frank Selvy set the NCAA record for points in a game while at Furman. On Feb. 13, 1954, the senior scored 100 points in a game against Newberry, a record that still stands. Selvy was the Southern Conference Most Valuable Player in 1953 and 1954 and the league’s Athlete of the Year in 1954. He went on to a 10-year career in the NBA. Selvy and his former Lakers teammate West were both enshrined in the league’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
Rod Hundley was another West Virginia star during the 1950s. “Hot Rod” made a name for himself as one of the most spectacular players to tour the league during his era. Hundley averaged 24.5 points per game in his three seasons as a Mountaineer and was an all-conference and all-tournament performer in each of those three years. He was the Southern Conference Most Valuable Player and Athlete of the Year as a senior in 1957. He was the first player selected in the 1957 NBA draft and enjoyed a six-year career in that league.
ETSU’s Keith “Mister” Jennings made his mark on the college basketball world in the early 1990s. Despite standing less than 6 feet tall, Jennings was a two-time all-conference choice and the league’s Player of the Year and Athlete of the Year in 1991. Jennings played with the Golden State Warriors of the NBA and was inducted into the SoCon Hall of Fame in 2016.
Besides West Virginia’s team in 1959, the Southern Conference has been represented in the Final Four on two other occasions. North Carolina advanced to the NCAA championship game in 1943 before falling 43-40 to Oklahoma State. NC State finished third in the tournament in 1950.
Davidson continued the record of success by advancing to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight in 2008 as coach Bob McKillop’s Wildcats came within a basket of making the Final Four behind the play of sophomore guard Stephen Curry. Curry, a two-time SoCon Male Athlete of the Year winner, led the nation in scoring as a junior at 28.6 points per game and has gone on to star for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, earning league MVP honors twice and leading the Warriors to the NBA title in 2015. He was also inducted into the SoCon Hall of Fame in 2016.
Women’s basketball competition began in the Southern Conference in 1983-84 with seven teams. In the sport’s history, eight schools have won the league’s tournament at least once, with Chattanooga winning 17 and Appalachian State owning six titles. UNCG won the 1998 tournament as head coach Lynne Agee became the first coach to take a team to the NCAA tournament in all three divisions – I, II and III. In 2001, Chattanooga head coach Wes Moore became the first coach in NCAA history to take three different teams to the NCAA tournament in all three divisions. After Moore’s departure to helm NC State following the 2012-13 season, Chattanooga hired coach Jim Foster, who was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in June 2013.
Since 1984, 10 different teams have claimed at least a share of the regular-season crown. Chattanooga has the most overall titles with 20, seven of them shared. Chattanooga also owns the most outright championships with 13. In 2012-13, Davidson’s Sophia Aleksandravicius became just the sixth player in league history to win the conference Player of the Year award twice, joining ETSU’s DeShawne Blocker (1993 and 1995), Furman’s Jackie Smith (1998 and 1999) and Chattanooga’s Damita Bullock (2000 and 2001), Alex Anderson (2007 and 2008) and Shanara Hollinquest (2009 and 2010).
In baseball, Wake Forest advanced to the championship game of the NCAA College World Series in 1949. The Citadel made history in 1990 by becoming the first military school to make an appearance at the College World Series. The Bulldogs were joined that season at the College World Series by future conference member Georgia Southern.
One of the Southern Conference’s more famous baseball alums is Duke’s Dick Groat. The Blue Devil shortstop, who was also a basketball standout, was the conference’s Athlete of the Year in 1951 and 1952. He went on to a 14-year career in the major leagues and was named the National League MVP in 1960 after leading the league with a .325 batting average for the World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates.
Among Southern Conference alums to grace Major League Baseball fields have been Atlee Hammaker (ETSU), Jeff Montgomery (Marshall) and Mike Ramsey (Appalachian State). Other SoCon players to go on to play in the major leagues include third baseman Dallas McPherson (The Citadel), who played for the Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels, the Florida Marlins and the Chicago White Sox; pitchers Britt Reames (The Citadel) and Ryan Glynn (VMI), who both pitched with the Oakland A’s in 2005; Furman’s Tom Mastny, a pitcher with the Cleveland Indians (2007); College of Charleston’s Graham Godfrey, who pitched for Oakland in 2011 and 2012; Georgia Southern’s Everett Teaford, a pitcher with Kansas City from 2011-13; The Citadel’s Chris McGuiness, who made his MLB debut with the Texas Rangers in 2013; and Western Carolina’s Jared Burton, who played for Cincinnati and Minnesota in a career that spanned seven years (2007-14). The Catamounts’ Tyler White is the latest SoCon alum to make his MLB debut, as he first appeared for the Houston Astros in April 2016.
Several SoCon alumni have played in the majors in the last two seasons, including College of Charleston’s Brett Gardner, who earned a World Series ring with the New York Yankees in 2009, and Michael Kohn (Atlanta Braves); The Citadel’s Asher Wojciechowski (Houston Astros); Western Carolina right-handed pitcher Greg Holland (Kansas City), who was an American League All-Star in 2013 and 2014 and helped the Royals to the 2014 AL pennant and their first World Series appearance since 1985, saving Game 3; and Wofford’s John Cornely, who debuted with the Atlanta Braves in April 2015.
In the summer of 2016, Mercer’s Kyle Lewis made league history, becoming the highest-ever SoCon draft pick when he was selected 11th overall by the Seattle Mariners in the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Arnold Palmer, one of the world’s most famous golfers, competed under the Southern Conference banner as a collegian at Wake Forest. He took medalist honors at the Southern Conference tournament in 1948 and 1949 and was the tournament’s runner-up in 1950. Palmer was the medalist at the NCAA Golf Championships in 1949 and 1950. He went on to become one of the most accomplished golfers to play on the professional tour. Palmer won 62 tournaments while competing on the PGA Tour and added 10 more victories as a member of the Senior PGA Tour. A member of the league’s Hall of Fame, he won eight major championships – four Masters, two British Opens, one U.S. Open and one U.S. Amateur.
Furman golfer Dottie Pepper was named the Southern Conference Women’s Athlete of the Decade in the 1980s and was honored as part of the league’s 25th anniversary of women’s championships celebration in 2007-08. Furman’s Brandi Jackson won the NCAA Women’s Golf East Regional in the spring of 2003, while, on the men’s side, Chattanooga’s Stephen Jaeger was the 2012 champion at the NCAA Bowling Green Regional. Chattanooga’s Steven Fox won the U.S. Amateur in 2012, going on to play in the 2013 Masters, U.S. Open and Arnold Palmer Invitational, among other PGA Tour events. ETSU’s Adrian Meronk represented Europe in the Palmer Cup in 2015 and 2016, becoming the first Polish player to do so, and helped the European side to the title in 2016.
In track and field, Appalachian State’s Mary Jayne Harrelson won the NCAA outdoor title at 1,500 meters in 1999 and 2001, while UNCG’s Paul Chelimo posted runner-up finishes in the outdoor 5,000 meters in 2012 and 2013 and recently qualified for the Olympic Games in Rio in that event. The Spartans’ Paul Katam was also an NCAA runner-up in 2013, finishing second in the outdoor 10,000 meters.
Coaches and administrators
The Southern Conference has also been a breeding ground for some of college athletics’ most recognized coaches and administrators.
Legendary basketball coaches Adolph Rupp of Kentucky and Everett Case of NC State both worked the sidelines in the Southern Conference. Rupp guided the Wildcats to a 30-5 mark during the 1931 and 1932 seasons. Yet, for all his coaching accomplishments, Rupp never led Kentucky to a Southern Conference tournament championship. Case mentored the Wolfpack to six consecutive Southern Conference tournament championships from 1947 through 1952.
Lefty Driesell coached Davidson to Southern Conference tournament championships in 1966, 1968 and 1969. Driesell also won the league’s Coach of the Year award four straight times from 1963 through 1966. Former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins earned league Coach of the Year honors three times in the late ’70s and early ’80s while at Appalachian State and again in 2010-11 as the head coach at the College of Charleston.
Terry Holland saw his basketball coaching career take off at Davidson when he returned to his alma mater in 1970. Holland was honored as the Southern Conference Coach of the Year for three consecutive seasons from 1970-72 and led the Wildcats to the conference tournament title and an appearance in the NCAA tournament in 1970. J. Dallas Shirley, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, spent 21 years as the assistant to the commissioner and supervisor of officials in the Southern Conference. He also served as president of the International Association of Basketball Officials and the United States Olympic Basketball Committee.
The legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant got his coaching start in the Southern Conference as he guided the Maryland Terrapins in 1945. Another famous Southern Conference football coach is the late Frank Howard of Clemson, who guided the Tigers as a league member from 1940-52. The incomparable Howard won 69 Southern Conference games.
The Southern Conference has been represented on the sidelines at five Super Bowls in recent years. Bobby Ross, who piloted the San Diego Chargers to the 1996 Super Bowl, was the head coach at The Citadel from 1973-77. Former Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy, who coached the Bills in four Super Bowls, directed William & Mary from 1964-68 and was succeeded there by Lou Holtz. William & Mary competed in the Southern Conference from 1936-77.