Big South Conference extends invitation to USC Upstate


USC Upstate Communications

The University of South Carolina Upstate was extended an invitation to join the Big South Conference on Tuesday and its membership is pending the approval of the USC Board of Trustees, which meets on Dec. 19.

“I could not be more pleased and excited that the University of South Carolina Upstate has been extended an invitation to join the Big South Conference,” said Chancellor Brendan B. Kelly. “This is a tremendous opportunity for the Upstate Spartans. Our athletic teams will be more competitively matched with colleges in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.”

Upon approval of the Board, the Upstate Spartans will become official Big South members on July 1, 2018 with its teams being immediately eligible for conference championships. The Upstate Spartans, which competes on the NCAA Division I level, fields 17 varsity sports: basketball, soccer, tennis, golf, cross country, and track and field for both women and men; baseball for men; and softball and volleyball for women.

Past athletic directors said football is not part of Upstate’s athletic growth. USC Columbia will remain the only campus to play football. Upstate will join Radford, UNC-Asheville, Winthrop, High Point and Longwood as non-football playing schools in the Big South.

USC Upstate has been a member of the A-Sun Conference since the fall of 2007 when its athletic teams moved from Division II status and began competing as a Division I institution. The NCAA Executive Committee voted to approve USC Upstate’s full certification into the Division I ranks process culminated in August 2011.

“On behalf of all the presidents and chancellors of the Big South Conference, I am very pleased to welcome the University of South Carolina Upstate as the newest member of our conference,” stated Mary Grant, Big South president and UNC Asheville chancellor. “Its commitment to Division I excellence in all facets of its program, and its location in the Big South footprint make it a great fit. We are looking forward to watching the Spartans compete and grow as a Big South member.”

Transitioning to the Big South Conference will create an entirely different experience for the 250 USC Upstate student-athletes who will be given incredible opportunities to thrive both on and off the field.

“The teams we will compete against are located within 300 miles of each other,” said Kelly. “Just the reduction in team travel time means 1,200 fewer classes will be missed by the student-athletes allowing them to succeed academically, athletically and socially.”

Athletic Director and Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics Julio Freire, who said the move to the Big South Conference is supported by all 10 head coaches, expects the Upstate Spartans to reap great benefits.

“Our student athletes will face top-level competition, excel in academics, and be provided with a well-rounded student-athlete experience. The overall athletics program will benefit exceedingly well from enhanced game day experiences and increased attendance given that more than 25,000 of our nearly 30,000 alumni live in the footprint of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.”

According to Freire, four rival schools are located within 65 miles of the USC Upstate campus. “The Upstate Spartans will have natural rivalries and our campus community, alumni and fans will be able to travel to more games.”

Todd Lawton, head coach of men’s and women’s golf at USC Upstate agrees with Freire. “Members of the golf teams are fans of other Upstate Spartan sports and they will absolutely love being able to drive a short distance to watch their friends play. The games we play as members of the A-Sun Conference are far away so our student-athletes have few opportunities to support each other with game attendance.”

“It’s all about the WOW factor for our university,” said Chris Hawkins, associate athletic director and head coach of softball. “The conference realignment puts USC Upstate right where we need to be and we can now channel all our energies into being the best we can be in this region instead of competing across the Southeast.”

With the addition of USC Upstate, the Big South Conference will have four members based in South Carolina (Charleston Southern, Presbyterian College, USC Upstate, Winthrop), as well as four based in North Carolina (Campbell, Gardner-Webb, High Point, UNC Asheville) and three in Virginia (Liberty, Longwood, Radford).

“The Big South is thrilled to add USC Upstate as its newest member,” added Big South Commissioner Kyle Kallander. “From its commitment to the success of its student-athletes, to athletics excellence, to its geographic proximity in the heart of the Big South — the Spartans are a wonderful fit. We thank Chancellor Kelly and the USC Upstate leadership for their interest and confidence in the Big South. This is a partnership that will make us all better.”