Wednesday, April 16, 2014 · 11:50 p.m.

Mercer, ETSU and VMI would be a boost for SoCon hoops

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The Southern Conference, widely considered one of the top football conferences in the Football Championship Subdivision, took a big hit when perennial powerhouses Appalachian State and Georgia Southern announced their departure for the Sun Belt in March. 

The College of Charleston’s exit for the Colonial Athletic Association last November didn’t do much for the league’s basketball presence.

Expansion is imminent for the 92-year-old league, which currently has just nine full-time members. 

On Thursday afternoon, the SoCon took some big steps towards making that expansion a reality. 

As earlier speculated, Mercer and East Tennessee State have emerged as two institutions interested in joining the SoCon, along with Virginia Military Institute, already an associate member in wrestling. 

Mercer and ETSU—both schools are in the process of restarting their football programs—certainly won’t bolster the conference’s gridiron resume. Neither will VMI, which has compiled an 8-25 record over the past three seasons—just 5-13 against Big South competition. 

The additions could, surprisingly, pay dividends on the basketball court, though.

That’s something the league sorely needs, too, especially after CofC’s exit, in addition to rumors swirling around Davidson’s anticipated departure to the Atlantic 10. Even with both the Cougars and Wildcats in the fold in 2012-13, the SoCon was ranked No. 27 out of 33 Division I basketball conferences in average RPI.

Losing three schools should only lower that ranking, right? 

Not necessarily. 

App State, Georgia Southern and College of Charleston’s average RPI over the past five seasons is 198.5, while the three potential incoming institutions’ is actually lower—186.6. 

In addition, Mercer, ETSU and VMI also have more combined NCAA tournament appearances (4), NIT appearances (2) and total postseason appearances (8) in that five-year span than the schools they could end up replacing. 

The moves, by no stretch of the imagination, would transform the SoCon into a top-tier, mid-major conference, but the additions of Mercer, ETSU and VMI would only help on the hardwood. 

Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.

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