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In My Opinion


Wildcats had little choice

By Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.

I love the Southern Conference’s members, traditions, rivalries and geography. There’s something wonderful and these days rare about schools that stretch from Carolinas mountains to the Low Country getting on a bus and getting together to play.

The Southern Conference ceased to be the Southern Conference as we know it when football powers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern announced their departure and understudy basketball power College of Charleston did the same.

Davidson was presented with a challenge. Stay in the conference, continue to dominate basketball and hope to win an occasional NCAA men’s tournament game.

Or head north to compete against schools with bigger gyms, bigger budgets and bigger big men.

The Wildcats will announce today that they chose the latter. They will join the Atlantic 10, the conference the Charlotte 49ers (and Temple and Xavier and Butler and maybe others) are leaving.

I don’t see an option.

Without the Mountaineers, the Southern Conference loses a great football program and a fantastic fan base.

Walk into a popular Charlotte bar, announce that you’ll buy a drink for every Davidson graduate in the house and you can usually get by with $20. Cut the same deal for graduates of Appalachian State and you better bring plastic.

Conferences aren’t static. They change more than the waistline of a high school graduate preparing for a 20-year reunion. They annex more ruthlessly than any municipality. Play the game or be left behind.

Davidson chose to play.

There’s a cost. The Wildcats will not dominate the A-10 the way they have the Southern Conference.

But haven’t they accomplished all they can? The A-10 will offer exposure and television revenue, revenue the Wildcats will have to pump into their basketball program to remain competitive. Expenses will jump. They can bus to Boone, not Philadelphia.

So they fly. And they play in the Palestra. If you grew up in the Northeast, as Davidson coach Bob McKillop did, the Palestra is magical, Cameron Indoor Stadium north.

McKillop wins with players basketball powers ignore. He won’t be able to do that consistently in the A-10. He won’t have to. The move will enhance recruiting.

Neither the 49ers nor their fans figured out the A-10. Despite the traditions and the quality of the basketball, Charlotte fans never embraced it. The 49ers never were able to compete.

Davidson fans, who are more likely to come to campus from places outside the Carolinas, will better appreciate their new digs.

The Wildcats will go as far as McKillop takes them, and his reach is considerable. McKillop’s talent is broader than the cozy conference in which he works. I don’t know many college basketball coaches who are as consistently effective as he is. The question is not whether McKillop can adjust to the A-10.

The question is how well the A-10 adjusts to him.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119;
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