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Sun Belt commissioner remains ‘optimistic’ about future of conference

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Which is hard to do if you’re Karl Benson, the former WAC commissioner who saw the Mountain West pick apart his conference over the course of the past couple of years of realignment. With the news yesterday that FAU and Middle Tennessee would be leaving the Sun Belt for Conference USA — that was made official today in a release —  well, it’s been tough sledding for Benson as of late.

Yet Benson claims to be ‘very optimistic’ about the future of the Sun Belt in a statement released Thursday regarding the departures of FAU and MTSU:

“While I am disappointed that Middle Tennessee State University and Florida Atlantic University have elected to depart the Sun Belt Conference, the SBC is still very well positioned for the future and I remain very optimistic that the momentum that has been created in the past six months will continue to grow. The continuing 10 members of the SBC are committed to excellence and I am confident that the SBC will take advantage of these latest changes in the landscape. As I have stated many times in the past six months, the SBC will be a major player in the future, especially within its geographic footprint.

As for future members, there are several outstanding universities that have indicated interest in joining the SBC. While we have conducted research on these universities in the past six months, we will now focus on identifying the ones that will be the best “fit” for the conference and the ones that will contribute immediately in achieving our goal of being the best of the FBS conferences that currently do not receive automatic qualification into the BCS.

The future is still very BRIGHT for the SBC and I look forward to working with the leadership of the SBC in the coming days, weeks and months to continue the growth and development of this outstanding athletic conference.”

FAU and MTSU are the third and fourth departures from the Sun Belt to C-USA, joining North Texas and FIU. Those teams will be replaced by the trio of Georgia State, Texas State and UT-Arlington next season. Idaho and New Mexico State, formerly of the WAC, and Georgia Southern are also possible additions to the Sun Belt

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10 Responses to “Sun Belt commissioner remains ‘optimistic’ about future of conference”
  1. dmcgrann says: Nov 29, 2012 2:19 PM

    I’m sure that Commissioner Benson whistles every time he passes a graveyard. The SBC doesn’t have a whole lot to pick from, except for some FCS schools that are considering moving up, and I’ve yet to see one that has the money in place to do so.

  2. drummerhoff says: Nov 29, 2012 4:43 PM

    The WAC and now the SunBelt are going away.
    Sun Belt will becoming C-USA
    The WAC will becoming the MWC
    The MWC & C-USA is the new BigEast
    and the old BigEast is the new ACC.

    $hit does roll down hill.

  3. Legion Of Boom says: Nov 29, 2012 5:18 PM

    As far as I know, UT-Arlington doesn’t have a football team.

  4. bigdinla says: Nov 29, 2012 5:51 PM

    All the talk is Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. Also UT Arlington is not a member of the SBC

  5. pf1977 says: Nov 29, 2012 7:14 PM

    with the disintegration of the WAC the way it happened under Benson’s watch i’d be nervous if i were a member of the Sun Belt.

  6. hutfrog says: Nov 29, 2012 7:23 PM

    First — UTA becomes a non-football member of the SBC next season, after a one-year stint in the WAC. They just completed a new on-campus arena, and that outweighed reviving the football program. Making a lot of investments in upgrading the full school experience. Guessing, five years from now they may be ready to revive football — which would include expanding football stadium near campus.

    Second — WKU is vital here. They could be targeted by MAC, and have been rumored in if C-USA goes to 16. If WKU leaves, SBC is in real trouble. If they stay, SBC goes for Appy State, and tries to get JMU to make the jump. Benson wants NMSU, but others don’t. Georgia Southern, Lamar, Sam Houston State are fallbacks. Idaho will never be voted in, unless they had to have one more to stay afloat.

  7. dmcgrann says: Nov 29, 2012 10:02 PM

    I’m not aware that the NCAA has ever done so, but if they start to enforce the FBS attendance rule, Idaho’s in danger of being knocked into the FCS, whether they like it or not. The NCAA bylaws don’t require that the NCAA has to let the public know if any FBS schools are on attendance probation, so we may never know if a school is being kicked out of FBS or whether it’s being done “voluntarily”.

    Georgia Southern has at least put the issue of going to FBS to a student vote, and the students voted to raise their fees for the move. I don’t know that App State and JMU have gotten that far.

    Moving up from FCS to FBS is pretty daunting. You pretty much have to fund an additional 44 scholarships (22 for football and a like amount on the women’s side), make sure your stadium is in order and you can meet the attendance requirement, and then retain that enthusiasm while you probably spend a lame-duck year in your current conference (most likely without being eligible for the conference championship or even the conference BB tournament), plus the two year transition period. Then you can hope that in the fourth year you can do well enough to be bowl-eligible – and if you’re best expectation is a lower-tier bowl, you’re losing money.

    Not to mention that you lose whatever rivalries you’ve built up over the year in trade for playing someone your alumni have never heard of a time zone or two away, and maybe you go from top of the heap playing for a national championship in your division to hopefully playing in some bowl game sponsored by a truck stop on the other side of the country.

  8. asumaverick03 says: Nov 30, 2012 10:48 AM

    dmcgrann-

    Appalachian State two or three years ago completed a feasibility study involving a move up to the FBS level. A study whose end result concluded that it is both feasible and recommended.

    In 2006, our stadium went through a massive expansion project which included doubling the size of the “away side” as well as creating a new massive press box area equipped with corporate suites. The expansion boosted the capacity to 24,000, with an average attendance figure for the 2012 season of 27,000 (you can sit on a grassy hill on the north endzone). Comparing apples to apples, the average attendance for a SBC school this year hovered around 20,000, significantly less than App’s.

    We are also in the process of a $200 million campus-wide capital campaign of which part is planned for use in expanding Kidd Brewer Stadium even more by building a new endzone grandstand and adding onto the “away side”. There are renders of the stadium out there but no numbers, but conservatively the additions will bring the capacity to 30,000 I would think. I’m not sure how far they are in the process, I think they have collected near $100 million so far, I would expect with an official invite to an FBS conference, the donations will begin to come in at a faster pace,

    JMU’s stadium went through an expansion in 2011 and now Bridgeforth Stadium has a capacity of 25,000.

    Either way, both teams are capable of heading into SBC or C-USA and delivering a strong presence just as much as Georgia Southern would. All three are FCS rivals too so that would help if they went in at the same time.

  9. dmcgrann says: Nov 30, 2012 11:25 PM

    asumaverick03, I’m happy to hear that ASU is making such progress. We here in Richmond used to play you guys on a regular basis back in my day, and you pretty much always whipped us. I wouldn’t miss having to go through Boone the next time we make the playoffs. Same with JMU, though I go back far enough that they didn’t really have a team when I was in school, I have no doubt that ASU, JMU, and Georgia Southern could be competitive in FBS at some level fairly quickly, once they got past the “purgatory” part of the transition period.

    What I’m afraid we’re seeing is FBS expansion driven solely by media markets rather than football tradition and experience, or the merits of programs at the schools making the jump. Charlotte is going to be in C-USA before they have even played a game at all. ODU is going to be in C-USA; and, although they’ve had remarkable success, they’ve yet to play a single game ever against any FBS team. Or a single game more than 650 miles away from home, or even outside of their time zone. Georgia State will be in the Sun Belt, but their 2012 season could be described as a Dumpster fire, and that’s being charitable. Playing UT in the Georgia Dome at least helped rack up their attendance.

    But, those three provide some supposed introduction into the Charlotte, Hampton Roads, and Atlanta media markets. There’s not as much clamor for and glamor in the Boone, Harrisonburg, or Statesboro media markets, even though you and I know that ASU and JMU have pretty decent and supportive fanbases (don’t know about GaSou).

  10. dmcgrann says: Dec 3, 2012 9:24 PM

    I now see where App State has elected not to renew the contract of their head coach, Jerry Moore – after 24 years. Apparently it was decided before this season began. That may be an indication that they want to put a move up to FBS on the fast track.

    I’ve wondered about JMU with Mickey Matthews, who’s been their HC for 13 years. Matthews’ dislike of playing FBS teams is well-known. He goes along with it for the program’s finances, but he hates the injury toll those games can have on a FCS team.

    I’d hate to think that teams intending to move from FCS to FBS would dump long-time coaches (championship-winning, at that) for someone more “FBS worthy”, but it doesn’t shock my cynical side.

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