BUIES CREEK — Campbell University has eased the travel load on its athletes and smoothed over a 15-year-old dispute by rejoining the Big South Conference.
School and conference officials announced Thursday during a news conference on campus that Campbell will rejoin the Big South in July 2011. That will be after the school's contractual obligations to its current conference, the Atlantic Sun, expire.
Campbell athletic director Stan Williamson said the move will save the school an estimated $60,000 a year in travel costs. He said less strenuous travel should lead to a 20 percent drop in missed class time for athletes.
"It is in our best interest, especially the best interest of the student-athletes, that we move to the Big South Conference," Campbell president Jerry Wallace said.
Campbell was a founding member of the Big South in 1983 but left to join the Trans America Athletic Conference -- now the Atlantic Sun -- in 1994. A lawsuit filed by the Big South -- which temporarily lost its NCAA men's basketball tournament automatic bid -- sought $300,000 in damages from Campbell. The parties settled out of court.
Officials at Campbell contended that the league had violated the Baptist-affiliated school's policy banning Sunday competition. On Thursday, Wallace said Campbell's Board of Trustees affirmed the policy banning Sunday contests but will allow exceptions for conference tournaments, playoffs and makeup games.
Big South commissioner Kyle Kallander said the league is comfortable with the arrangement.
Campbell will pay the Big South an entrance fee of $101,430 but will not owe the Atlantic Sun a fee for departing, school officials said.
Campbell will compete in 17 of the 18 sports offered by the Big South but will remain a non-scholarship member of the Pioneer Football League. Campbell will keep its affiliation with the Coastal Collegiate Swimming Association and will remain a Division I independent in wrestling.
Every school in the Big South, which will have 11 members upon Campbell's entrance, is in the Carolinas or Virginia. The Big South's headquarters are in Charlotte.
All but one of Campbell's Atlantic Sun opponents is in Georgia, Tennessee or Florida.
Kallander said it's too early to tell whether Big South men's basketball teams will continue playing each school in the conference twice. That would raise teams' conference schedules from 18 to 20 games.
Campbell women's basketball coach Wanda Watkins said playing opponents that are closer to campus should help recruiting and allow fans to travel to more road games.
"The class time that our kids are not going to be taken away from, that's going to be great," Watkins said. "I don't think we'll play as tired, perhaps. ... There's just a number of [positive] things."
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