Virginia-Wise's move to SAC fast approaching

Kevin Mays • Jan 6, 2019 at 2:00 PM

WISE — Virginia-Wise sports fans may be more familiar with the Cavaliers’ opponents this fall.

On July 1, Virginia-Wise leaves the Mountain East Conference and joins the South Atlantic Conference.


The SAC is an NCAA Division II league that consists of teams from Tennessee (Carson-Newman, Lincoln Memorial and Tusculum), North Carolina (Catawba, Lenoir-Rhyne, Mars Hill, Queens College of Charlotte and Wingate) and South Carolina (Anderson, Coker and Newberry). Limestone College of Garrney, South Carolina, is also part of the SAC but as a football- only member.

Including Limestone and Virginia-Wise, the SAC will have nine football- playing schools in the fall.

Virginia-Wise will be the first school from Virginia to join the conference as well as the league’s first public school.


Dr. Kendall Rainey, Virginia-Wise’s athletic director, said there are several reasons for the college to make the move to the SAC, familiarity with the member schools among them. But Rainey said the chief reason is all about the lay of the land.

“The primary and largest variable is that geographic footprint of the conference is a better overall fit for us,” Rainey said. “It will help us reduce travel-related costs and it will reduce travel time and reduce the amount of class time that our student-athletes will have to miss.”

She said four SAC schools — Tusculum, LMU, Carson-Newman and Mars Hill — all offer shorter trips for Virginia-Wise teams than the trek to Concord in Athens, West Virginia, which is Virginia-Wise’s closest MEC opponent.


Virginia-Wise athletics was a longtime NAIA participant before beginning play as a conditional member of NCAA Division II in 2013 and as a full DII member in 2015.

Since 2013, the school has been part of the Mountain East Conference, which consists primarily of schools in West Virginia.

Rainey said Virginia-Wise officials had conversations with SAC officials in 2016 about joining the conference. At the time, however, the SAC was not interested in expanding its membership.

A year later, the conference had a change of heart and talks began in earnest in December 2017. After a lengthy review process, the SAC extended an official invitation and Virginia-Wise accepted in April of last year.

Virginia-Wise has played almost all of the SAC schools at one time or another in several sports. The Cavaliers played Tusculum in 1991 in the first football game in Virginia-Wise history. Virginia-Wise also played Tusculum in its first game as a member of NCAA Division II.


The SAC has conference championships in all 13 sports in which Virginia-Wise competes.

As far as how the Cavs will fare against SAC competition, Rainey — a former all-star softball and volleyball player at Virginia-Wise — said she expects the school to be competitive.

“It’s a fairly equal level of competition compared to the Mountain East,” she said. “All in all, the SAC is a strong DII conference and there will be good competition.”

Rainey said Virginia-Wise is moving to the Southeast Region as a member of the SAC, which is generally tougher than the Atlantic Region — the school’s current home with the MEC.

Perhaps the toughest sport in the SAC from top to bottom is baseball, she said.

Rainey said she’s hopeful Virginia-Wise can increase its financial support for athletics in the coming years to help the baseball program and other sports at the school grow and to continue to attract quality athletes to compete at the top in the SAC.