On the eve of the Southern Conference basketball season, the College of Charleston announced on Friday that it will be leaving the SoCon for the Colonial Athletic Association.

While the men’s and women’s basketball teams were in transit to Elon, N.C., to tip off what will be the school’s final season in the SoCon, the College’s Board of Trustees were debating the move. After seven months of planning, paperwork and deliberations, the Board went into executive session for almost an hour to debate the merits of the final contract, negotiated by president George Benson and athletic director Joe Hull with the CAA. After the closed-door session, the Board voted unanimously to authorize the College’s move to the Colonial, ending its 15-year relationship with the Southern Conference.

“The CAA is a great league, and we’re very excited to be a part of it,” Hull said after the Board announced its decision on Friday. “I know there are a few of our fans who aren’t sure, because they are very familiar with the league we’ve been in, but we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that everybody understands, when this is over, that it was the right move to make.”

Hull also said that the coaches of all of the school’s 21 varsity athletic programs took their own vote earlier this week, and their vote was also unanimous in support of the move.

After the meeting, Benson stressed again that a sports affiliation extends far beyond the areas of athletic competition, however.

“We are moving to a collection of universities that is very similar to the direction the College of Charleston wants to move in,” Benson said, “so we see benefits not only on the athletic side, but also on the academic side.”

“Every single one of our alumni will have the value of their degree increase,” Benson continued. “You now have employers up and down the East Coast, from Boston to New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore that will now become much more familiar with the College of Charleston. So every one of our alumni will benefit from this.”

“(Charleston) is a great, vibrant, growing institution in a very attractive locale,” Colonial commissioner Tom Yeager said in a video statement, after the vote was announced. “It will open up some new rivalries, and new excitement. It’s the kind of venue and city that I think our fans are going to love to visit, and their fans are going to love to come up into some of our cities where (CofC alumni) have a strong presence already.”

If the conference realignment rumors are true, Yeager has been answering more phone calls this week than from just the College. In the recent flurry of conference movement, one persistent rumor says that East Carolina may split its conference affiliation, joining the Big East in football, and possibly the CAA in all other sports. That would be one step closer to forming a South Division, which would include the College, current CAA member UNC Wilmington and possibly several schools in Virginia.

“At this point, I would be shocked if the Colonial did not come up with a Southern Division that all of the people who support the College of Charleston would be pleased with,” Hull said.

The Cougars will open play next fall as a full member of the Colonial, meaning that the men’s and women’s soccer teams – the first teams who will open play under the CAA banner in August – have already played their final games are members of the Southern Conference. Over the next several months, though, the men’s basketball team will attempt to book-end its time in the Southern Conference: The Cougars won the league’s regular-season and tournament titles in 1997-98, its first year in the SoCon.

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