In an age where teams continue to change conferences in order to bring the most money to their program with little regard to tradition or historical rivalries/match-ups, Mercer University might face the choice of whether to stay in the Atlantic Sun or not. The Atlantic Sun is a great conference, but as we have recently seen with Belmont trashing their big rivalry with Lipscomb in order to jump ship and head to the Ohio Valley Conference, there might be greener pastures ahead for the Mercer Bears.
The A-Sun is by no means a powerhouse in athletics. Yes, Mercer is not the dominant school in the conference, but honestly, neither is Belmont. The Bruins just had one amazing year of Basketball and now everyone thinks that they are amazing. They did win a few conference titles in the past decade, but neither the men nor the women have won the all-sports trophies.
Where does Mercer fall? They easily have the best basketball facilities in the Atlantic Sun, which is why the conference extended the Macon arena’s tenure as home of the General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Conference Basketball Tournament through at least 2013.
Volleyball championships have also been hosted here in the past few years. The impending renovations of Claude Smith Field will also take the smaller baseball stadium to be the best of the A-Sun here as well. Also, Bear Field is a perfect locale for soccer, and until the Stadium is built, it will host lacrosse games. The Bears have played well here, and despite the small size, the Bears draw decent crowds.
I think that Mercer should consider expanding its footprint. Football is about to be added, and the Pioneer League will expand the horizons of Mercer Athletics far beyond what anyone dreamed of. However, there are some things to consider. How will the rising transportation costs affect conferences with a widespread distribution of members? The Atlantic Sun is not that large, but there might be better fits for the Bears.
The Southern Conference, the fourth oldest conference in the land, might be a better bet for Mercer. Yes, Mercer alone would turn the SoCon into a 13 team conference, probably necessitating another team to come along with the Bears. Not only are the Bears going to find themselves traveling less, they will have a higher level of competition to go up against. The Bears could face Davidson, Elon, Furman, Samford, and Wofford. These private universities are routinely competing with Mercer for high school seniors that are looking for prestigious private schools to attend after high school.
Mercer could also begin a better rivalry than the one with Kennesaw State: a rivalry with our neighbors in Statesboro, Georgia Southern. A rivalry with the Eagles could bode well, especially with the addition of football for Mercer. Furthermore, when wrestling at Mercer becomes a sanctioned NCAA sport, the SoCon sponsors wrestling and a conference champion for it as well. Mercer could also find themselves drawn to it for football, simply due to its chance to be the one non-scholarship school in the SoCon (Davidson plays in the Pioneer League).
As for transportation, Mercer would be able to avoid traveling as far north as Northern Kentucky every year (once NKU joins the A-Sun in Summer 2012) and as far south as Fort Myers, where Florida Gulf Coast is based. Instead, the Bears would only go as far north as Boone, N.C. for Appalachian State and as far south as Statesboro for Georgia Southern.
In addition, Mercer would find themselves in competitive markets and in more press on national networks due to the nature and history of the SoCon. Appalachian State, Furman, and Georgia Southern are all known for their great play in football. Davidson is known for the phenomenal run to the Elite Eight in men’s basketball that they made recently. The Citadel has been much more than a simple mid-major in baseball, even making a trip to the College World Series in the 1990s.
In essence, Mercer could find transport costs limited by changing conferences, and they could find themselves featured on bigger television markets with a switch. This seems like a great fit if Mercer ever considered switching over. Also, the Bears could even stay in the Pioneer League for football, playing Davidson as the two SoCon transplants.
There is a likelihood that Mercer could bring in greater athletes and expand far beyond what they have as a founding member of the A-Sun. Personally, I love the Atlantic Sun, but Mercer deserves the best it can get, which might be the SoCon or another similar conference.