History of the SAC

SAC Vision Statement

"The South Atlantic Conference aspires to be the premier NCAA Division II athletic conference in the country; a conference where a high priority of each member institution is a balance between athletics and the overall academic, spiritual, social and physical development of each student-athlete to provide these individuals with skills for future success." 


The South Atlantic Conference is in its 43rd year of athletic tradition and excellence. 

The distant forerunner of the South Atlantic Conference was the North State Atlantic Conference (NSIAC). The NSIAC was formed when the “Little Six,” as it was called, broke from the North Carolina Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1930. These charter members included Appalachian State, Lenoir-Rhyne College, Atlantic Christian, Catawba College, Guilford College, Elon College, and High Point University.

The North State continued to grow over the next 30 years, adding Western Carolina (1933), East Carolina (1947), and Pfeiffer (1960). A name change became necessary when the league accepted Newberry as its first South Carolina member in 1961. The league took on the name Carolinas Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (CIAC) on May 20th of that year.

The CIAC saw several changes in the following years as East Carolina withdrew from the league in 1962. Appalachian State and Western Carolina followed in 1971 and 1976. All three landed in the Southern Conference.

The South Atlantic Conference was founded in 1975, solely as a football conference. The league received its name from a contest in which Kurt Brenneman of Greensboro, NC became the first to submit the SAC-8 moniker.

The SAC-8 consisted of Carson-Newman College, Catawba College, Elon College, Gardner-Webb University, Lenoir-Rhyne College, Mars Hill College, Newberry College and Presbyterian College. Dr. Fred Bentley, of Mars Hill College, was named league president for its inaugural year by a vote of the member institutions.

The Bears of Lenoir-Rhyne College captured the football title after the SAC-8’s first season of play.

In 1989, the league’s 15th year of operation, the South Atlantic Conference became a comprehensive, multi-sport conference. Doug Echols was named the league’s first Commissioner. That year, the South Atlantic Conference sponsored 10 sports: football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, softball, men’s soccer, volleyball, men’s golf and men’s and women’s tennis. Later, the conference grew to 14 championship sports by adding women‘s soccer (1990), men’s and women’s cross country (1993) and women’s golf (1999). In 2013, the sports of men’s and women’s lacrosse and men’s and women’s outdoor track and field were added, increasing the number of championship sports to 18. The conference added two more championship sports, men’s and women’s indoor track and field, to its line-up in 2017, bringing the total number of championship sports to 20.

The South Atlantic Conference was composed of the same eight member institutions from 1975 until 1988, when Wingate University replaced Newberry College. Newberry later rejoined the conference in 1996.

In July of 1998, Tusculum College was admitted as a member of the league, and Lincoln Memorial University began play in the conference in the 2006-07 academic year. Brevard College was admitted as a provisional member in 2007 and a full member in 2008.

In 2008, Echols retired after serving as Commissioner for 19 years and Patrick Britz was hired as the new Commissioner.

In July 2010, Anderson University became the league’s 10th member. Three years later, in July 2013, Coker College and Queens University of Charlotte joined the conference. 

In July 2016, Limestone was added as an associate member for football only. 

Today, the conference is a group of 11 private, liberal and civic arts colleges and universities, similar in size and athletic philosophy. Since becoming eligible for NCAA Division II postseason play in 1993, the league has sent representatives from all of its sponsored sports to NCAA postseason play.

The league membership now includes Anderson University in Anderson, S.C.; Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn.; Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C.; Coker College in Hartsville, S.C.; Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C.; Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.; Mars Hill University in Mars Hill, N.C.; Newberry College in Newberry, S.C.; Queens University of Charlotte in Charlotte, N.C.; Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn.; and Wingate University in Wingate, N.C.

Key Dates in SAC History

  • 1930 ­– North State Atlantic Conference forms when six schools break from the North Carolina Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
  • 1961 – Newberry joins league. Conference changes name to Carolinas Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (CIAC)
  • 1975 – South Atlantic Conference forms as football league with eight schools, called the SAC-8
  • 1988 – Wingate replaces Newberry
  • 1989 – SAC becomes a multi-sport conference
  • 1996 – Newberry rejoins conference
  • 1998 – Tusculum joins conference
  • 2006 – Lincoln Memorial joins conference
  • 2008 – Brevard joins conference
  • 2008 – Patrick Britz named Commissioner
  • 2010 – Anderson joins conference
  • 2013 – Coker and Queens join conference
  • 2016 – Limestone joins conference as associate member for football only
  • 2018 – UVa-Wise accepts membership beginning in 2019-20