Limestone Athletics Announces Historic Move To South Atlantic Conference

Charles Wyatt
Limestone Athletics Announces Historic Move To South Atlantic Conference

Saints sports fans will likely be much more familiar with Limestone College’s opponents starting in the fall of 2020.

During a press conference held on Friday, April 5, inside the Rilling Hall of Fame Room, it was announced that Limestone will depart Conference Carolinas to join the South Atlantic Conference in nearly all of its NCAA sanctioned sports starting with the 2020-2021 academic year. The Saints are currently associate members of the SAC in football only.

The press conference from the Bob Campbell Field House featured comments by Limestone President Dr. Darrell Parker, the College’s Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Mike Cerino, and South Atlantic Conference Commissioner Patrick Britz.

The SAC is an NCAA Division II league that consists of teams from South Carolina (Anderson, Coker, Newberry), North Carolina (Catawba, Lenoir-Rhyne, Mars Hill, Queens University of Charlotte, Wingate), and Tennessee (Carson-Newman, Lincoln Memorial, Tusculum). The University of Virginia’s College at Wise will move into the SAC starting on July 1 of this year. By adding Virginia-Wise, the SAC will have nine football-playing schools this fall. Virginia-Wise, currently a member of the Mountain East Conference, will be the first school from Virginia to join the conference and will be the league’s first public school.

Mike Cerino, Limestone’s Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics, said there are several reasons for the College to make the move to the SAC, with familiarity with the member schools being one of the most important. He also cited the geographic location of the SAC member schools as another primary cause.

“We’re thrilled for our fans who will likely be much more acquainted with our SAC opponents,” Cerino explained. “In this area, Saints supporters certainly know names like Newberry, Anderson, Catawba, Mars Hill and others. That will definitely lead to even greater attendance at our games. Joining the SAC in nearly all sports will also enable to Limestone to create some true rivalries that should get our student-athletes and our fans excited.

“From a travel perspective, the SAC is an excellent fit for us,” he continued. “By reducing our travel times, it will also lessen the amount of time that our student-athletes will miss in the classroom. At the same time, our bottom line will be enhanced because our department will not be spending as much on travel.”

Currently, as a member of Conference Carolinas, Limestone travels to Barton (Wilson, NC), Belmont Abbey (Belmont, NC), Converse (Spartanburg), Emmanuel (Franklin Springs, GA), Erskine (Due West, SC), King (Bristol, TN), Lees-McRae (Banner Elk, NC), University of Mount Olive (Mount Olive, NC), North Greenville (Tigerville, SC), and Southern Wesleyan (Central, SC).

With the SAC having a pedigree that includes several national championships, Cerino said his coaches are excited about the competition level that the new league will provide. 

“The SAC is well-known as a very competitive league and there will be good competition for all of our teams,” he said. “We believe that joining the SAC is the best opportunity for our student-athletes and coaches to compete for NCAA Division II Championships. The combination of the SAC geographic footprint and the institutional focus of the member schools offers each institution the opportunity to enhance the student-athlete experience.” 

Parker also noted that the SAC’s Strategic Plan lines up with Limestone’s overall mission. He said the Strategic Plan’s academics and life skills center on goals of promoting academic success of student-athletes, preparing student-athletes for life after college, and promoting student-athlete health and well-being. He added that the conference also strives to maintain a high level of institutional control and compliance, ensure strong athletic competition, increase conference brand awareness, support and enhance diversity, support and enhance educational and career opportunities for female and/or ethnic minority student-athletes, and more.

“This move will cultivate natural rivalries for our teams, and it also aligns Limestone with schools that have similar philosophies,” Parker explained. “With the SAC, we will be competing against institutions that have the same priorities in the academic success of the students. The competitive levels of the schools we will be playing will closely match ours, and we are located more closely to the other SAC members. All of that equates to a better experience for our student-athletes. With the SAC having a pedigree that includes several national championships, our coaches are excited about the competition level that the new league will provide.”

Limestone held dual membership in the NAIA and NCAA Division II starting in 1991. The College moved exclusively to Division II membership when it joined Conference Carolinas (known then as the Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference) during the 1998-99 academic year. With the lone Virginia school in Longwood leaving, the league changed its name to Conference Carolinas in 2007. Since that time, the league now has one school in both Tennessee and Georgia.

Prior to becoming dual members with the NCAA in 1991, Limestone competed as a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics institution. The Saints won the NAIA National Golf Championship in 1984.

Limestone has won 11 national championships (five team, six individual) since joining the NCAA Division II ranks. The Saints Athletic Department has combined for 103 NCAA Tournament appearances and five NCAA Elite 89/90 Awards. That award is presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA’s championships.

The South Athletic Conference currently offers football, baseball, softball, field hockey, women’s volleyball and men’s wrestling, as well as men’s and women’s basketball, lacrosse, soccer, golf, tennis, cross country, and indoor and outdoor track and field. Field hockey and men’s wrestling are technically part of the South Atlantic Conference Carolinas, which is a joint sponsorship venture between the SAC and Conference Carolinas. As it now stands, Limestone’s men’s volleyball, acrobatics & tumbling, and women’s wrestling teams would compete in non-SAC leagues. However, the SAC could add more sponsored sports in the future. 

The South Atlantic Conference is in its 43rd year of athletic tradition and excellence. The SAC was founded in 1975, solely as a football conference. Known as the SAC-8, it consisted of Carson-Newman College, Catawba College, Elon College, Gardner-Webb University, Lenoir-Rhyne College, Mars Hill College, Newberry College, and Presbyterian College. The SAC became a multi-sport conference in 1989.