MACON – July 1 marks an important milestone for Mercer University and its athletics programs, as the Bears officially begin a new era as members of the historic Southern Conference.
Mercer's move, which was officially confirmed by University President William D. Underwood in a press conference on May 30, 2013, sees 16 of the school's 18 intercollegiate sport programs begin new affiliation under the SoCon umbrella. Both sand volleyball and women's lacrosse remain associated with the Macon-based Atlantic Sun Conference.
“Today we're proud and honored to formally join the Southern Conference, a league steeped in rich tradition of athletic and academic excellence,” Mercer Director of Athletics Jim Cole said. “We appreciate and value our long standing relationship with the Atlantic Sun Conference and look forward to an exciting new age of Mercer Athletics.”
The calendar transition to July also marks the official move to the Southern Conference for East Tennessee State and VMI. The SoCon membership now stands at 10 strong, composed of The Citadel, ETSU, Furman, Mercer, UNC-Greensboro, Samford, Chattanooga, VMI, Western Carolina and Wofford.
Mercer enters the SoCon at a fitting time, as the Athletics Department recently wrapped up arguably its most successful season. The 2013-14 academic year saw 15 of 16 Atlantic Sun sponsored programs qualify for conference tournament play, while both men's basketball and men's golf earned the league's NCAA qualifying bid with A-Sun Tournament titles. Additionally, the football team set an NCAA record for wins by a start-up program with a 10-2 record.
In the classroom, Mercer was equally as impressive as a record 74.8 percent of student-athletes who competed in the Atlantic Sun earned at least a 3.0 GPA. Furthermore, the football team (as the one sport that spent 2013-14 outside the Atlantic Sun Conference) had 46 members of its roster named to the Pioneer Football League's Academic Honor roll.
Mercer's first contest against a fellow Southern Conference opponent comes on Saturday, Sept. 6, as football hosts Furman at 6 p.m.
The Southern Conference is the nation's fifth-oldest NCAA Division I collegiate athletic association. Only the Big Ten (1896), the Missouri Valley (1907), the Pac-12 (1915) and the Southwestern Athletic (1920) conferences are older in terms of origination.
The Southern Conference offices are located in the historic Beaumont Mill in Spartanburg, South Carolina. A textile mill that was in operation from 1880 until 1999, Beaumont Mill was renovated in 2004 and today offers the league first-class meeting areas and offices as well as a spacious library for storage of the conference's historical documents.