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Naples Daily News (Florida)
Late Wednesday morning, the Spartanburg (South Carolina) Herald reported its hometown university is leaving the ASUN for the Big South, effective July 1, 2018.
"We have received notification from the Big South Conference that we have been granted full membership," USC Upstate Chancellor Brendan Kelly told the Herald. "We'll start next season, which means we'll be exiting the Atlantic Sun Conference after this season is over. I couldn't be more pleased about that development because it creates an entirely different experience for out student athletes."
North Alabama decided in December 2016 to move up from Division II and compete in the ASUN beginning with the 2018-19 academic year. So the ASUN will continue to have eight schools. Conferences must have at least seven members to compete in NCAA tournaments and meets.
"We're still going to be at eight teams and we're doing well in that regard," FGCU athletic director Ken Kavanagh said. "Most of us probably look at 10 as the ideal number of teams to have a little bit of cushion and also to be in the position of having more games to start with in your schedule -- you don't have to try to find so many non-conference games.
"But that being said, you look at the positives, too. If you're only eight, you've got a one out of eight chance to make the NCAA tournament. If the right schools and right opportunities are there, we'll continue to look in that (expanding) direction."
ASUN Commissioner Ted Gumbart was caught by surprise Wednesday morning, but he's not shocked that this is transpiring.
"It's just the national landscape and even our local landscape," Gumbart said. "The focus is internal. What does the institution need? So the fact that that was something they would entertain is not surprising."
Gumbart also said conference officials are -- as always -- monitoring the possibilities of more additions.
"We have been planning forward in various membership scenarios for a number of years and we think there are some definite growth opportunities ahead," Gumbart said. "We've been deliberate about it, not jumping just for the sake of adding. But like anything else, one door closes, another opens, and I believe we're going to have opportunities to do some positive things with our membership."
The Spartans -- a recent softball power but never a major player in men's basketball and with only a blip of that in women's basketball -- joined the ASUN in 2007, the same time former Division II program FGCU did.
Travel seems to be the key factor USC Upstate is making this move. The closest fellow ASUN programs to USC Upstate are Kennesaw, Georgia, which is almost 200 miles from Spartanburg, and Lipscomb, whose Nashville home is about 350 miles away. ASUN teams are now spread from New Jersey to Florida.
The Big South has three South Carolina schools and four in North Carolina.
"We have one opponent less than 300 miles away in the Atlantic Sun," Kelly told the Herald. "There is only one opponent more than 300 miles away in the Big South."
"A game at Florida Gulf Coast would cost $15,000," USC Upstate softball coach and associate athletic director Chris Hawkins told the Herald.
Kelly also mentioned to the Herald that the Spartans will be able to construct "more natural rivalries."
The Big South and ASUN worked out an agreement last year that would send ASUN football programs to the Big South if they so choose. The ASUN's Kennesaw State currently plays in the Big South, and North Alabama will next year. USC Upstate does not have a football program.
Mercer and East Tennessee left the ASUN in 2014 to play football. In 2015, Northern Kentucky bolted to the closer Horizon League.
But the New Jersey Institute of Technology quickly jumped into that open spot as a D-I program that previously had no conference affiliation.
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