Liberty making the switch from the Big South to the ASUN in all sports except for football is certainly news that caught the attention of the collegiate sports world. After having some time to digest it, let’s take a step back and look at what the ASUN offers Liberty.
First of all, it’s no secret that the Big South was on the verge of forcing our hand and making us find a new conference home after our FBS announcement last year. Multiple sources have confirmed that Liberty and the ASUN were mere days away from coming to an agreement last summer prior to the Big South’s approval of Liberty’s waiver to remain in the league. Liberty officials sought out the ASUN at that time to preempt the Big South’s decision. For whatever reasons, the two sides could not get a deal finalized. So, at the very least, this move provides Liberty stability moving forward. No longer does Athletic Director Ian McCaw and his staff have to be constantly looking over their shoulder wondering if the Big South will ever change its mind.
Secondly, the schools in the ASUN better align with Liberty in its current state than most of the Big South schools. According to the EADA, ASUN schools had average athletic revenues of $16.1 million for the most recent data available compared to the Big South’s $13.8 million. The average student enrollment for ASUN schools is nearly 8,000 while the Big South is 3,700. Schools like Florida Gulf Coast and Kennesaw State have made significant commitments to the future of their athletic brands in ways that several Big South members are unable to do so.
Leaving the Big South will cause the Flames to lose many local rivalries that have been developed with other member institutions in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. There will be increased travel costs in the ASUN, but Liberty has much larger alumni bases in Florida, Atlanta, and Nashville than the other Big South locales. Since the school’s founding, Liberty has always striven to be a national brand. Being able to consistently compete where the ASUN’s member institutions are currently located helps advance that cause more so than being in the Big South would.
The same can be said for recruiting. Liberty recruits on a national level and being able to develop rivalries in Florida, Atlanta, and Nashville will help further this advancement. Not only will it help the sports in the ASUN, but it should also help football. The Flames have frequently recruited Georgia and Florida very hard on the gridiron in recent years, and playing multiple games in all sports in those regions will only help to establish the Liberty brand.
As far as the quality of play, over the past 6 seasons in men’s hoops the ASUN has an average conference rank of 26.6 compared to the Big South’s average of 25.5, according to KenPom. In women’s basketball, the ASUN was rated the 23rd best conference compared to the Big South being 26th this past season. In baseball, the ASUN is ranked the 7th best conference compared to the Big South being 22nd. In softball, the ASUN has 4 teams ranked in the top 100 this season compared to the Big South having 2.
The ASUN also gives Liberty a chance at a fresh start. In the ASUN, the Flames will have an opportunity to rebuild its competitive identity and continue to build its brand. In recent years it seemed as though the athletic program had grown stagnant in the Big South. This move will afford Liberty the opportunity to take that next step.
On the surface, the move seems to be a head-scratcher, but after having time to digest it, the ASUN is the right conference for Liberty at the right time.