With Coastal Carolina leaving for the Sun Belt this upcoming season to become the 130th school in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision starting in 2018, the FCS Big South Conference faces some tough questions.
How do you replace your top dog? Where does this leave the standing six of Big South football? Is this the end for Big South football?
There is no question it is just the beginning.
Conference realignment is the name of the game in college football. Since 2000, 15 schools have moved up from FCS to FBS in pursuit of bowl glory and money. In FCS, 125 schools remain, which includes CCU for now. The Chanticleers will play as an FCS independent as they transition to full-time Sun Belt and FBS membership in 2018.
That leaves the Big South with six teams, just enough teams to earn their automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.
“With the current landscape we all have to be very forward-thinking about our leagues, about our membership, about doing what we can do to ensure long term stability,” said Commissioner Kyle Kallander.
“The Big South has seen relatively little membership change recently, and is confident on its ongoing stability.”
Long-term stability is something Kallander and the members of the Big South have worked hard to achieve. When Kallander arrived in 1996 there were just six schools committed to the league. Today the Big South sits at 10 full-time members competing in 19 sports. But only four play football, which includes associate members Kennesaw State and Monmouth.
VMI left for the Southern Conference in 2014, but only six other schools have left the Big South in the past 20 years — Birmingham Southern (2007), Elon (2003), Maryland-Baltimore County (1998), UNC Greensboro (1997), Towson (1995) and CCU (2016).
Charleston Southern (Baptist College), Radford and Winthrop are the remaining charter members from the 1983 start. Campbell, a charter member, left the conference but rejoined in 2011. UNC Asheville joined in 1984.
Expansion candidates include Kennesaw State, which competes in all other sports in the Atlantic Sun. Division II teams are another possibility.
Presbyterian College moved up from Division II to join the conference in 2007. Armstrong State and Augusta State (now Georgia Regents University) were charter members of the Big South and now compete in the Division II Peach Belt Conference.
That's a question to be decided another day.
When someone leaves someone else steps up. Who will that be this season in the Big South?
Defending conference champion Charleston Southern remains the team to beat. The Buccaneers knocked off state rival The Citadel last season, 14-6, after The Citadel upset the SEC's South Carolina Gamecocks 41-38. All-Big South lineman Anthony Ellis helped set the tone for a defense that largely dominated spring practice.
Charleston Southern’s motto is “We’ll play anybody anywhere, and the Buccaneers open the 2016 season at five-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State.
“To put it in FBS terms, they’re the Alabama of FCS football,” said Buccaneers head coach Jamey Chadwell, who welcomes the challenge to showcase what they’ve accomplished in the last three years and to prove last year wasn’t just a fluke.
It's also an opportunity to showcase the Big South.
“It’s important for us to be attractive as a destination,” Chadwell added. “We have to work internally to make Big South Football as good as it can be.
”To use a game like this, a marquee game to showcase the Big South, hey if you’re a part of our league this is the opportunity you’re gonna have. We’re not just a whatever out there. You have a chance to play number one teams, to beat number one teams, to get in the playoffs and you can accomplish that in the Big South.”
CONFERENCE CHANGES FOR 2016
AT A GLANCE
MAC returns to a 12-team conference with two six-team divisions in 2016.
Blazers dropped football in 2015-16, rejoins as 12th member eligible for postseason play in 2017.
AT A GLANCE
Sun Belt (FBS)
FCS independent in 2016, joins Sun Belt in 2017, eligible for postseason play in 2018
East Tennessee State
Officially becomes SoCon’s 10th member, eligible for postseason play in 2016.
Above: Charleston Southern lines up for a play during its first spring scrimmage. (Courtesy CSU Athletics)