Karl Benson: 12 still desired number for Sun Belt membership

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Get ready for continued offseason conference expansion and realignment rumors this offseason, because the Sun Belt Conference still wants to do what they can to reach a football membership of 12 members. Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson addressed the topic in a Q&A with AL.com Friday in Mobile during a luncheon for the GoDaddy.com Bowl before hopping on a plane for Pasadena. In it Benson reflected on a successful year for the Sun Belt and confirmed the conference is still hoping to get to 12 football members in the near future.

“There are schools who want to be the 12th member,” Benson said to AL.com, suggesting discussions of some sort have been ongoing, although Benson did not specify which schools may have been showing interest. One of the draws for a conference getting to 12 football members is the ability to hold a conference championship game. Benson noted the Sun Belt is the left out of the championship mix between Conference USA, the MAC, Mountain West Conference and, soon, the American. The American Athletic Conference is expected to play a championship game following upcoming realignment changes that will see Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) leave but Tulane, Tulsa and East Carolina join and Navy on the way in 2015.

“I know that this past December 7th when the MAC and Conference USA and the Mountain West had their championship games and next year the American will have their championship game and the Sun Belt will be the one in our peer group that doesn’t have a championship game,” Benson said. “We miss out not having that type of exposure on that championship Saturday.”

Asked about a timeline for finding a 12th conference member, Benson said in order to make it official for 2015 the conference will have to have a deal done by June 1 of this year, although he says it is too early to speculate on the confidence level of having a school confirmed by then.

Western Kentucky will leave the Sun Belt for Conference USA officially on June 1. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will join the conference in their transition from FCS to FBS at that time. Idaho and New Mexico, left abandoned following the crumbling of the WAC’s football operations and unwanted by the Mountain West Conference, will also join the conference as affiliate members. Those changes leave the conference with 11 members for 2014.

The Sun Belt will not be likely to pry a school away from any of the other FBS conferences, so the most likely route for the Sun Belt may be to add another FCS program. Benson suggested finding a school situated within the current footprint of the conference may be ideal, suggesting it would be nice if Appalachian State could have a travel partner. That would seem to suggest another school in or nearby North Carolina would be the ideal addition for the Sun Belt. Charlotte and Old Dominion are each heading to Conference USA, so those options are off the table for the Sun Belt.

Two schools to keep an eye on might be Coastal Carolina and Liberty. Both have been improving their football programs in recent years and would be in a good location as a traveling partner for Appalachian State.

Michigan State, Washington round out future schedules with Utah State

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Needing to fill a single spot in some future schedules, both Michigan State and Washington have come calling to the Mountain West for an opponent. Utah State was happy to oblige.

Michigan State will host Utah State on September 1, 2018. The Aggies will travel to Washington on September 19, 2020. For their travels, Utah State will collect $2.9 million between the two games, according to FBScheduels.com ($1.4 million from Michigan State, $1.5 million from Washington).

The Big Ten and Pac-12 each use nine-game conference schedules, leaving three spots open for non-conference games. The Big Ten requires all conference members schedule one game per season against another power conference opponent (the Pac-12 has no such requirement of its members at this time), although exceptions are made. Utah State, as a member of the Mountain West Conference, would not satisfy that requirement for the Big Ten, but the Spartans already have a road game against Arizona State (Pac-12) on the schedule in 2018. Michigan State and Arizona State will play again in 2019 in East Lansing. Michigan State also has future power conference matchups with Notre Dame (2017, 2026, 2027) and Miami (2020, 2021). Michigan State will also play BYU in 2020 in Provo.

Washington has future power conference matchups with Rutgers (2017), Auburn (2018, in Atlanta), and Michigan (2020, 2021). The Huskies will also face Mountain West Competition from Fresno State (2017), Hawaii (2019), and Nevada (2027).

Utah State will face power conference opponents on the road in 2017 (Wisconsin, Wake Forest), 2018 (Michigan State), 2019 (Wake Forest, LSU), 2020 (Washington), and 2021 (Washington State). Utah State will also host Washington State in 2020 as part of a home-and-home deal. Utah State also has an annual series against BYU running through 2020.

Old Dominion hopes to “hit the ground running” on new stadium project

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Some fans of the Old Dominion football program may be getting a little impatient with the progress (or lack of) in the development of the football stadium, but Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig says things are coming along nicely and progress will start to be seen soon enough.

“Once we get the architects engaged, we’ll figure out what $55 million will buy in 2019 dollars,” Selig said, according to The Virginian-Pilot. “Then we’ll have an idea for how much additional money needs to be raised to support the project.”

Old Dominion is planning on tearing down Foreman Field at the end of the 2018 season and rebuild it with modern seating and amenities. The $55 million project remained on the books in the Virginia budget in February, allowing the university to move ahead with their plans. The first step is finding an architect to take on the job.

Because Old Dominion’s football stadium is among the smallest in the nation and will remain so even after the rebuild and renovations, the entire project is expected to move fairly swiftly once the work actually begins. Old Dominion isn’t building a grand football palace, so any concerns over the lack of updates on the stadium should be calmed.

If nothing else, the concerns raised about the lack of updates on the stadium renovations may just mean Old Dominion has some eager fans excited about the future of the program.

Baylor interim president to Texas senators: “We were not trying to cover up what happened at Baylor”

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Texas senators are taking aim at Baylor University and are hoping to persuade the university to be more open and transparent despite being a private university.

Baylor interim president David Garland faced criticism from senators during a hearing with the Senate Higher Education Committee on Wednesday regarding the coverup of rape accusations found throughout the football program in recent years.

“We were not trying to cover up what happened at Baylor,” Garland said to the committee. Unfortunately for Garland, that was far from enough to sway the senators on the committee from playing nice with him and Baylor University.

I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that for a minute,” Senator Kel Seliger replied, according to The Texas Tribune. “I don’t buy that for a minute. I think that is exactly what was going on.”

The exchange between the interim president at Baylor and the senator came during a hearing regarding a state bill that requires any school receiving more than $5 million in Tuition Equalization Grants from the state to comply with open records and open meetings laws in the state of Texas. Baylor, being a private university, believes it should not have to comply with the bill, which would open up the doors to more information regarding Baylor’s handling of vile accusations within its university and athletics department.

The exchange comes a day after Baylor moved to dismiss a lawsuit claiming 52 rapes over a three-year period occurred at the university.

If you thought the ugliness around the Baylor situation was going to be limited to athletics, you thought wrong. This is clearly a state-wide concern and battle now. And things are always bigger in Texas, right?

A&M-UCLA opener in 2017 moved from Saturday to Sunday

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Grab your calendars as there’s been a change to your opening(ish) weekend college football agenda.

Texas A&M road trip to UCLA is one of a handful of high-profile games that will help launch the 2017 season Labor Day weekend.  The game, which will be played at the famed Rose Bowl, had been originally scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 2.  However, it was announced Wednesday that the game will be pushed back to Sunday, Sept. 3.

The game will kick off at either 7:30 or 8 p.m. ET, with the actual time being determined at a later date.

This year’s game will serve as the back-end of a home-and-home series between the two schools.  The Aggies claimed a 31-24 win over the Bruins in overtime last season in College Station.

The 2017 season will actually commence the weekend of Aug. 26 with five games featuring FBS teams, including Stanford against Rice in Australia and Colorado State opening their new on-campus stadium against Oregon State.  The first full weekend kicks off the following Thursday — Ohio State-Indiana highlights that day’s lean slate — and continues with a handful of games the next day — hello Colorado-Colorado State, Washington-Rutgers and Utah State-Wisconsin among others.

The first full Saturday features the likes of Alabama-Florida State, Florida-Michigan, West Virginia-Virginia Tech, LSU-BYU, Louisville-Purdue, Cal-North Carolina, Maryland-Texas and South Carolina-North Carolina State squaring off Sept. 2.

A&M-UCLA is the only Sunday game, while Tennessee and Georgia Tech will close out the weekend at the brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta Labor Day night that Monday.