Mercer plans to join the Southern Conference

On May 30, 2013, Mercer University announced that it was accepting an invitation to join the Southern Conference, leaving the Atlantic Sun Conference, which it is currently a member of. Mercer’s membership in the Southern Conference will become effective on July 1, 2014, according to a new release made by the university.

There are several reasons that went into Mercer’s decision to switch sports conferences. According to Jim Cole, Mercer’s Athletic Director, football was one of the reasons, but it was not the primary motivation for Mercer’s decision.

“We really do respect the Southern Conference and its heritage,” said Cole. Founded in 1921, the Southern Conference is the fifth oldest athletic division in the country.

Cole also mentioned other reasons for wanting to switch divisions, including a chance to play against certain schools, and less travel time for the players. “It was a chance for us to renew a lot of rivalries that had been important to Mercer,” said Cole, who specifically mentioned schools such as Samford University and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

He also said that the Southern Conference has a smaller “geographical footprint” compared to the Atlantic Sun Conference, which would mean less traveling time for Mercer’s athletic teams. Cole said that less travel time will mean “More time there at home, more time that they can devote to studying.”

While one advantage to joining the Southern Conference is that it will sponsor Mercer’s football team, Cole made it clear that Mercer was not just thinking about football when it decided to switch conferences. “We looked at the whole, all 18 sports, and how it would impact the whole department,” said Cole, describing Mercer’s thought process when it made the decision.

When asked whether he thought that joining the Southern Conference would be a benefit to all of Mercer’s sports teams, Cole said, “To me, I can find no detrimental move to any of our sports.”

The Southern Conference will sponsor all of Mercer’s current sports teams with the exception of lacrosse, which Cole said is because it is a newer sport in the south. Mercer will continue to support its lacrosse team however by having it play in affiliate conferences, so the switch from Atlantic Sun should not affect the team.

Before choosing to join the Southern Conference, Mercer had an extensive history with the Atlantic Sun Conference. Mercer was one of its charter members and according to Cole, was the oldest, having joined in 1979.

When describing Mercer’s relationship with the Atlantic Sun Conference, Cole said that they were a great conference to be a part of and that they had no complaints with the conference. “We’re leaving some good people in Atlantic Sun, and a lot of long time partners that we’ve gotten to know very well. But we are excited about the move to the Southern Conference,” said Cole.

While Mercer’s relationship with Atlantic Sun had no issues, the Southern Conference had more to offer the university, according to Cole. “We’re very thankful to Atlantic Sun and for what they did, and all that they brought to the table, and at this time, for Mercer, the Southern Conference is a better fit,” said Cole.