Big South Conference History
All-Time Commissioners & Presidents
Since its founding in 1983, the Big South Conference has matured into a competitive leader in college athletics, actively pursuing excellence on the field of play and in the classroom. The League's growing presence as an NCAA Division I athletic conference is evident by athletic accomplishments on the national stage, innovative marketing and media partnerships, increased television packages, and quality athletic competition while intentionally fostering the academic, personal, social, athletic and leadership development of each student-athlete. This has evolved into the Conference's mission of "Developing Leaders Through Athletics." The 2012-13 academic year features the Big South's largest membership (12) and sponsored sports (19) in its 29 years of existence.
The Big South Conference was formed on August 21, 1983, when Charleston Southern (then Baptist College) Athletic Director Howard Bagwell and Augusta President George Christenberry began recruiting members into the Big South, receiving initial commitments from Augusta, Charleston Southern, Campbell, Coastal Carolina and Winthrop. One month later, Dr. Edward M. Singleton was selected as the League's first Commissioner and continued to solicit new members. His efforts led to the additions of Armstrong State, Radford and UNC Asheville, giving the Big South more than the required six members to constitute an official conference. The Big South's first year of competition was in the Fall of 1984, and in September 1986, the Big South Conference was granted full-fledged NCAA Division I status.
During its infancy and prior to securing automatic bids to NCAA Championships, the Big South made early strides in earning at-large berths in several national postseason events, including volleyball, women's basketball and women's golf. In 1989, George F. "Buddy" Sasser replaced the retiring Dr. Singleton as Commissioner, and in 1990, the League received its first automatic bid - receiving an automatic qualifier to the NCAA Baseball Championship. Under Sasser's seven years of leadership, the Conference implemented its public relations and compliance programs, and introduced its first-ever men's basketball television package, featuring the Big South competing among some of the finest teams in the nation.
In August 1996, Kyle B. Kallander replaced Sasser as the League's third Commissioner, and in his 16 years at the helm of the Big South, Kallander has been instrumental in aggressively promoting the Conference to new heights. The Conference has enjoyed record levels in marketing revenue during his tenure, he has brought television coverage to Big South women's basketball, baseball, softball and men's soccer for the first time in Conference history, as well as increased national television exposure to the League as a whole through aggressive and unique television packages.
Under Kallander's leadership, the Big South developed and initiated its first long-range strategic plan, re-affirming the League's vision as a distinctive athletic Conference committed to the quality of institutional life through athletic competition. He also spearheaded the efforts to add football as a championship sport, which came to fruition in 2002, and oversaw the additions of men's and women's indoor track & field in 1997. The Conference's 19th championship sport -- women's lacrosse, begins play this season with eight members. At the same time, Kallander has solidified Conference membership, as an all-time high 12 member institutions comprise the 29-year old League. Recent additions include High Point, Gardner-Webb, Presbyterian College and Longwood, plus the return of charter member Campbell University. Kallander's long range vision has also included technological advancements, as the Conference introduced its first live video streaming event in 2005 and has since expanded its video offerings to more than 700 events annually through a partnership with the member institutions, as well as the creation of several online and social media platforms.
In the last 15 years alone, the Big South Conference has experienced monumental growth and success in nearly every sport. During this time, the Conference has had an individual National Champion six times, has had more than 280 All-Americans, has reached the "Sweet 16" in men's soccer, women's basketball and baseball, has received national Top 25 rankings in football, men's soccer, men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball, men's outdoor track & field, and men's golf, had an individual selected to play in the NCAA Singles Championship seven times in addition to the first men's tennis doubles at-large selection, had the first women's golf program advance to the national finals, had the No. 1 ranked men's golfer in the country, had the nation's top scoring men's basketball team five consecutive years as well as the national men's basketball scoring leader twice, received an at-large playoff berth in the Football Championship Subdivision in 2006, has had six NFL Draft picks, and has had two institutions finish in the top 10 in the NCAA Men's Golf Championships -- including the Conference's highest-ever team finish in an NCAA event (fifth in 2007).
In 2006-07, the Big South was the only Conference nationwide to have an at-large participant in the football playoffs (Coastal Carolina), a team in the Second Round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament (Winthrop) and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Baseball Regionals (Coastal Carolina). In fact, Coastal Carolina's baseball program has been a No. 1 seed four out of the last eight years -- including a national seed for the first time in 2010, while the Chanticleers' FCS playoff berth in 2006 came in just the fifth-year of the Big South's football existence. The 2009-10 season saw Liberty's Sam Chelanga win two NCAA National Championships (cross country, 10,000-meter run); Coastal Carolina's baseball team reach the Super Regionals for the second time in three years as well as being ranked No. 1 in the national RPI and as high as No. 3 in the national polls; and three women's basketball teams reach the postseason for the first time in Conference history. In 2010-11, Chelanga won two more NCAA National Championships (cross country, outdoor 5,000-meter run), the Big South had its first automatic bid recipient in football (Coastal Carolina), UNC Asheville reached the Second Round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, Coastal Carolina's women's golf team was the first in Conference history to advance to the NCAA Championship out of Regional play, and a League-record 18 baseball players were drafted in the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
This past season, the Big South had a record 41 student-athletes earn All-America distinction, while another 10 were named Academic All-Americans. The Conference also won its first football playoff game (Stony Brook), had the national women's basketball Rookie Coach of the Year, had two men's soccer teams reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade (Coastal Carolina, Liberty), and had a record five individuals selected for the NCAA Men's Golf Regionals -- the most of any Division I conference in 2011-12. In addition, Liberty was the first men's golf team in Conference history to win an NCAA Regional, and the Flames went on to finish 10th at the national event.
Several former Big South student-athletes have also reached national prominence in recent years. Coastal Carolina's Amber Campbell made the U.S. Olympic Team in 2008 and 2012, and was one of five former Big South athletes to compete in the 2008 Games; High Point's Tamas Kovacs qualified for the 2012 London Games; VMI's Reggie Williams reached the NBA with the Golden State Warriors in 2010, UNC Asheville's Ty Wigginton was named an American League All-Star in 2010, and Coastal Carolina's Dustin Johnson has won six PGA Tour events since departing the Big South Conference in 2007. Three former Big South baseball players made their major league debuts in 2012, while Avery Warley became the third Big South women's basketball player to play in the WNBA.
The Conference's tagline, "Developing Leaders Through Athletics" was unveiled in 2008-09 in conjunction with the Conference's 25th Anniversary. The League also honored its heritage with the Top 25 "Best of the Best" moments in League history from 1983-2008, with Liberty University's 10-year women's basketball championship run from 1996-2007 being crowned the No. 1 moment in the Big South's first 25 years. The Conference's on-field accomplishments have been duplicated in the classroom. Annually, more than 40 percent of Conference student-athletes are named to the Big South's Presidential Honor Roll for maintaining a cumulative 3.0 grade-point average, and the League has had more than 100 Academic All-Americans in its 28 years of existence. Furthermore, the Big South has recorded double figure totals in NCAA Public Recognition Awards for APR progress the last three years.
BIG SOUTH FOOTBALL HISTORY
The Big South Conference took a big step in its young history in the Fall of 2002 when, for the first time in its 19-year history, the League crowned a football champion.
Football had always been a long range goal of the Conference. In the early 1990s, football seemed on the horizon in the Big South, as Charleston Southern fielded its first team in 1991 and the Conference added Liberty as a new member, which was already playing on the gridiron. However, football never got off the ground in the early part of the decade as other issues came to the forefront, including the Big South's emergence as a basketball conference. The League was awarded its first automatic bid to the NCAA men's basketball championship in 1992 and football was put on the back burner while basketball began to flourish.
The idea was revived in 1997 when Elon joined the Big South. That gave the Conference three full-time members with football programs -- half the number needed to be recognized as a Conference by the NCAA. Two years later on Nov. 10, 1999, Coastal Carolina University announced it would add football by the Fall of 2003. The wheels were set in motion to establish a Conference home for the League's football-playing members.
After attempts to form a joint football conference with the Atlantic Sun Conference failed, the Big South began recruiting more members to join its fledgling football league. On May 23, 2001, the dream became a reality when the Big South's Council of Chief Executive Officers voted unanimously to add football as the Conference's 18th championship sport. It became the first sport added since 1997 when men's and women's indoor track were incorporated as championship sports.
Shortly after the approval of football, the Big South's recruiting efforts paid off, as the addition of Gardner-Webb University as an associate football member was announced on June 20, 2001. There were hopes that with the addition of the Runnin' Bulldogs, a four-team League could begin play later that Fall, with Coastal Carolina coming into the fold in the 2003 season. However, scheduling conflicts could not be worked out, so the Fall of 2002 was designated as the kick-off to Big South Football. The Big South continued to look for additional members, with a goal of eventually having seven or eight playing members. On Dec. 10, 2001, one of the oldest programs in the state of Virginia -- Virginia Military Institute, announced it would join the Big South in all sports in 2003 and maintain the Conference's football membership at five following Elon's departure.
In 2006, the League moved one step closer to etching its status as a viable football Conference. First, Coastal Carolina Athletic Director Warren Koegel was appointed to the FCS Football Selection Committee, the Big South's first-ever representative on a national football committee. On April 6, the Big South added Presbyterian College as its sixth football member. Presbyterian, now in its first full-fledged year of Division I, officially joined the Big South in all sports in 2008. On May 26, 2006, the Big South announced that associate football member Gardner-Webb would join the Conference as full members on July 1, 2008, solidifying the Big South's football make-up for years to come.
With membership coming together, the Big South received a huge boost at the conclusion of the 2006 campaign. League champion Coastal Carolina became the first football member to advance to the postseason when the Chanticleers received an at-large berth in the NCAA Division I Football Championship. The Big South took another step closer to becoming eligible for an automatic berth when on March 20, 2007, the Conference announced the addition of Stony Brook University as an associate football member beginning in 2008. All the efforts came to fruition in the spring of 2008 when the NCAA announced the expansion of the FCS Playoffs from 16 to 20 teams beginning in 2010 and granting the Big South an automatic bid starting that year.
The growth of Big South football has been exceptional since its inception just a decade ago. The Big South experienced its most successful campaign in 2006 with Coastal Carolina's FCS playoff berth; two teams (Coastal Carolina and Charleston Southern) ranked in the national Top 25 in the same week for the first time; four appearances on the ESPN family of networks; and the first-ever NFL Draft pick and first finalist for the Walter Payton Award in Coastal Carolina's Tyler Thigpen.
In 2007, Liberty won the first of its four consecutive Big South football championships in record-breaking fashion just two years after finishing 1-10 overall; Coastal's Jerome Simpson (second round) and Gardner-Webb's Brian Johnston (seventh round) were selected in the NFL Draft, and the League's five football members combined to average a Big South-record 7,488 fans per game. The Big South produced another nationally-ranked program in 2008 in Liberty, as well as its fourth NFL draft pick in three years - Liberty's Rashad Jennings (seventh round).
The 2010 season saw the Big South make noise around the country early in the season with two wins over FBS opponents on the same day, when Gardner-Webb won in overtime at Akron and Liberty defeated Ball State on the road on Sept. 11. Individually, Liberty's Mike Brown led the nation in total offense while Stony Brook was the only FCS team to have two 1,000-yard rushers in Miguel Maysonet and Brock Jackolski. Coastal Carolina emerged from a three-way tie for first-place with the Big South's first-ever automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs. The Chanticleers also became the first Conference member to host a football playoff game as Coastal faced Western Illinois in the first round at Brooks Stadium. The Conference had its largest television package to date, as a record eight League games were broadcast while Big South football members appeared on TV 12 of the 13 weeks of the season.
November 2011 was a special month for the Big South. The Conference had two players (Josh Norman and Justin Bethel) named official candidates for the Buchanan Award for the first time; two Big South teams (Liberty and Stony Brook) were nationally-ranked in the same week for just the second time in League history; and Conference champion Stony brook rallied from 18 points to defeat Albany for a first round victory in the FCS playoffs -- the Big South's first postseason football win. Individually, the Big South had two football student-athletes (Pat Kelly and Marcus Lott) receive CoSIDA Academic All-America honors for the first time, and Norman and Bethel were selected in the NFL Draft.
With its seismic growth and playoff-caliber programs, the Big South is poised to continue its ascension as a national competitor in FCS football with the annual goal of advancing in the postseason and capturing the ultimate prize -- a national championship.