ROCK HILL, S.C. – The South Atlantic Conference announced it will add Barton College and Erskine College as associate members in football for the 2022 and 2023 seasons. The Bulldogs and the Flying Fleet will be eligible for the Conference Championship and individual awards (Player of the Week and All-Conference) in the 2022 and 2023 seasons.
“We are thrilled to have Barton and Erskine join the South Atlantic Conference as associate members in football,” said South Atlantic Conference Commissioner Patrick Britz. “As two new programs in the region, both institutions have done a tremendous job of getting football off the ground and we look forward to having them join our conference for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.”
The addition of Barton and Erskine will increase the number of SAC football institutions to 12 starting in 2022 with the addition of full member Emory & Henry College. In addition to Barton, Emory & Henry, and Erskine, the SAC football programs are Carson-Newman, Catawba, Lenoir-Rhyne, Limestone, Mars Hill, Newberry, Tusculum, UVA Wise, and Wingate.”Barton College is grateful to the South Atlantic Conference Presidents Council for accepting our application as an Associate football member,” said Todd Wilkinson, Barton Director of Athletics. “The support of Commissioner Britz and the team assembled to visit Barton to consider our request is much appreciated. I am really excited for Barton College and the football program to be an Associate Member in the SAC. The competitive challenge is huge, but the notoriety and prestige that our new football program will receive from this regional relationship was a goal of ours from the beginning and a true game-changer in the football program’s immediate future.”
Barton, located in Wilson, N.C., announced the return of football to the lineup of Bulldog NCAA Division II athletic programs for the first time since 1950 in January 2018. The Bulldogs were slated to play their first season of competition in the fall of 2020 under the direction of head coach Chip Hester. Those plans were put on hold due to COVID-19, and the Bulldogs instead began play in the spring of 2021 finishing the shortened season with a record of 1-4. No stranger to the SAC, Hester spent 18 years coaching at Catawba College, serving as the head coach of the Catawba Indians for 11 seasons.
“We are thrilled to become an associate member of the SAC,” Hester said. “We are thankful for the opportunity and the challenge to compete in one of the premier football conferences in the country.”
Erskine, located in Due West, S.C., also announced the return of football to its campus in 2018 after a 69-year hiatus. Like their Bulldog counterparts, the Flying Fleet were scheduled to begin competition in the fall of 2020, but had those plans derailed due to COVID-19. Led by former UVA Wise defensive coordinator, Shap Boyd, the Fleet finished the spring 2021 season with a 1-5 record, defeating Baton 30-28 to open the season.
“We are thrilled to be part of the South Atlantic Conference in football beginning in the fall of 2022,” said Erskine Director of Athletics Mark Peeler. “The SAC has a respected historical reputation in our geographical footprint, so to be able to compete with not only like-minded schools, but in many cases, natural rivalries is a blessing for the Flying Fleet. We are honored and grateful to be part of this conference which will provide our football program with an added boost as we head into our second year of play.”
“Erskine football could not be more excited about joining the SAC as a football Associate Member for the 2022 season,” Boyd said. “We are excited and we are looking forward to competing in one of the best Division II Football Conferences in the country. We appreciate the SAC including us and look forward to a hopefully long-lasting relationship.”
Among the nation’s premier Division II Conferences, the South Atlantic Conference has sent at least one team to the NCAA playoffs for the last 27 years and have sent at least two teams in three of the last five years, including Lenoir-Rhyne advancing to the NCAA Quarterfinals in 2018 and 2019.
In conjunction with the addition of Barton, Emory & Henry, and Erskine, the SAC will look to play a divisional football schedule based on geography with the plan for the two divisional winners to meet in a conference championship game during the final week of the regular season beginning in 2022.
“Moving to divisional play and having the ability to play a conference championship game is something that we have wanted to do for a very long time,” Britz said. “Our goal is to have two divisions of six with each division playing three cross-over games and two non-conference games each year, which will leave the final week of play open for a championship. Additionally, the remaining 10 teams will play cross-over games during the final week of the season. It is a unique concept, but we feel it will be a great experience for our student-athletes, coaches, and fans, as we put the top two teams on the field for the SAC title each year.”
The 2021 fall season will begin on Thursday, Sept. 2 with Shaw traveling to Wingate for the first game of the season. The remaining teams in the SAC will begin play on Saturday, September 4.