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Sun Belt announces new eight-year deal with ESPN running through 2027 season

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The four letter is signing up for more #FunBelt.

The Sun Belt conference announced on Thursday that they have agreed to a new eight-year contract with ESPN that will run through the 2027 football season and the 2027-28 academic year.

“The continuation of our agreement with ESPN marks one of the most historic announcements since the Sun Belt’s founding in 1976,” Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said in a statement.  “This is truly an ‘all in’ collaboration with ESPN, the Sun Belt, and our member institutions and the volume and accessibility of our games will have a profound impact on the future of the Sun Belt.  We have enjoyed a long relationship with ESPN since its founding in 1979 and we look forward to being featured on its newest platform, ESPN+, which promises to revolutionize how audiences view content.”

Most notably, it was confirmed that the inaugural Sun Belt Football Championship Game will be played on Saturday, December 1st and will be televised on either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2. Future championship games will also be on one of the three networks after the conference moved to a divisional format starting in 2018. The new deal also includes a guarantee that all Sun Belt home football games will be available on an ESPN platform and that at least 10 games will be televised on either ABC or one of the ESPN cable networks.

Naturally, many of the league’s other sports such as men’s basketball were also covered under the umbrella of the new contract. The bulk of those games from women’s basketball to soccer and beyond will wind up on the new ESPN+ streaming platform that the Disney-owned company is launching in the coming weeks.

No monetary terms were announced as part of the deal but it’s safe to assume that the TV revenues won’t be in the same ballpark as their Power Five peers such as the SEC or ACC. Still, given the challenges we’ve seen in the Mountain West and Conference USA (among others) in this new media environment, it seems the Sun Belt has locked up a quality partnership with ESPN for the long-term and granted some stability for the league in the coming years.

Sun Belt reveals 2018 schedule, first title game set for Dec. 1

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The Sun Belt on Tuesday announced its 2018 schedule, leaving the Mountain West as the only FBS league yet to reveal its slate. The 2018 season begins Thursday, Aug. 30, with Georgia State hosting Kennesaw State. The first conference game goes down Sept. 15 when Texas State visits South Alabama.

Tuesday’s announcement was significant for more than just the revelation of dates of games. It brings to a close the conference’s realignment moves that saw Idaho and New Mexico State get the boot and the league join the rest of its peers in adding a championship game. The inaugural Sun Belt Championship will take place on Saturday, Dec. 1, at a campus site and be televised on either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.

The Sun Belt’s roster now consists of 10 teams, but unlike the Big 12, the Sun Belt will split into two divisions:

EAST
Appalachian State
Coastal Carolina
Georgia Southern
Georgia State
Troy

WEST
Arkansas State
Louisiana-Lafayette
Louisiana-Monroe
South Alabama
Texas State

Appalachian State and Arkansas State have been the kings of the Sun Belt over the past three seasons, each going 21-3 from 2015-17. The Mountaineers and Red Wolves did not play in 2016 or ’17, but will square off in 2018. The two will square off on Oct. 9, a Tuesday, in Jonesboro for an ESPN2 game.

Troy has gone 13-3 over the past two seasons and split the 2017 title with Appalachian State after the Trojans and Mountaineers also did not meet during the season. That also changes in 2018 (and every season moving forward with the new divisional structure) as Appalachian State hosts Troy on Nov. 24 in a game that figures to decide the first Sun Belt East championship. Troy clinched its share of the 2017 crown with a 32-25 win over Arkansas State (6-2 in SBC play in 2017) on the first Saturday in December, and now the rematch could come in an actual championship game.

Unlike the Big 12, the Sun Belt will not play a 9-game, round-robin schedule. The Sun Belt will remain an 8-game league.

 

Ragin’ Cajuns confirm hiring of Sun Devils OC Billy Napier as head coach

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This phase of The Grand Experiment at Arizona State is officially an abject failure.

In hiring Herm Edwards, it was known that ASU was looking to retain both of Todd Graham‘s coordinators in an effort to ease Edwards’ return to coaching after a decade-long absence.  Earlier this week, the new Sun Devils head coach confirmed that defensive coordinator Phil Bennett was leaving the staff because of what were described as “family matters.” Overnight, reports surfaced that offensive coordinator Billy Napier had been offered the head-coaching job at a Sun Belt Conference program and was likely to accept it.

Friday afternoon, that likelihood became a reality as Louisiana announced that Napier has been named as the Ragin’ Cajuns next head football coach.  Napier replaces Mark Hudspethfired earlier this month after seven years with the program.

The football program will officially introduce their new coach at a Monday press conference.

“My family and I are excited and humbled for the opportunity to serve Cajun Nation and our Louisiana football program,” Napier said. “We will make it a priority to bring in the best talent from the state of Louisiana and the nation.”

Napier just completed his first season at ASU.  Prior to that, he spent five seasons as the wide receivers coach at Alabama.  Next Sept. 29th, Napier’s Ragin’ Cajuns squad will square off with… the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.

With Napier’s hiring, Kent State is the lone FBS program without a head coach.

Report: Louisiana offers head coach job to Arizona State OC Billy Napier

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So much for that plan.

The odd marriage of Arizona State and long-time but not-in-a-long-time NFL coach Herm Edwards was made even odder by the fact that Edwards was retaining Todd Graham‘s entire offensive coaching staff.  Less than two weeks into his tenure, however, there could be a glitch in the plans to help ease Edwards’s return to coaching as 247Sports.com is reporting that Louisiana (the school formerly known as Louisiana-Lafayette) has offered its head-coaching job to Billy Napier.

The 38-year-old Napier had just completed his first season as ASU’s offensive coordinator.  He was also given the title of associate head coach upon Edwards’ hiring.

Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry was also one of the potential candidates for the Louisiana job who interviewed for the opening.

Whoever gets the job with the Ragin’ Cajuns will be replacing Mark Hudspeth, fired earlier this month after seven years with the program.

Report: Mark Hudspeth removed as head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette after seven seasons

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Louisiana-Lafayette has made a somewhat surprising coaching change on Sunday. Mark Hudspeth has reportedly been fired as head coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns. Tim Buckley of The Daily Advertiser reported the news, via Twitter.

The firing comes a day after Louisiana was demolished by Appalachian State on Saturday in the regular season finale. The loss dropped the program to 5-7 for the season, preventing the Ragin’ Cajuns from reaching bowl eligibility for the second time in three seasons. Hudspeth has coached ULL to a bowl game in five seasons, with each trip going to the New Orleans Bowl. ULL was 4-1 in those five bowl appearances.

Hudspeth was 51-38 in seven seasons with the program. Don’t expect Hudspeth to be out of a job for too long. Hudspeth would make for a good offensive coordinator at the worst for some program in need of an offensive coordinator next year, and his head coaching experience still should make him an interesting name to be considered for some head coaching vacancies that may come open.