Summer is the time for blockbusters, so it makes sense the Sun Belt marked yesterday’s blockbuster announcement with a movie trailer-styled hype video.
Beginning in 2018, the Sun Belt will become the 10th and final FBS conference to hold a championship game, once Idaho and New Mexico State have seen the door shut behind them and Coastal Carolina takes their place.
“It’s exciting to know that we’ll join the other nine FBS conferences in holding a championship game,” commissioner Karl Benson said. “The first weekend of December has truly become ‘championship weekend’ in college football. To be able to participate in such a great event is something that coaches, student-athletes and fans will all embrace.”
While details are still being iron out, splitting into two-five team divisions with an eight-game schedule and a championship game at a campus site is the leader in the clubhouse at the moment.
“I think in the early stages, the route that we will take will be on one of our campuses — (not) to predict or speculate five years or seven years into it — but right now, we can expect that it will be on one of those campuses,” Benson said.
Welcome to the postseason party, Sun Belt.
Earlier this month, the Big 12 announced that it had voted unanimously to reinstate the conference’s title game following the 2017 regular season. A couple of days later, and following up on multiple reports, the Sun Belt has decided to create its own league championship game, only theirs will wait to kick off until after the 2018 regular season.
The league made the announcement at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.
“This is a historic moment that represents yet another step forward for the Sun Belt Conference,” said commissioner Karl Benson. “The membership of the Sun Belt has been engaged in a significant number of advancements for the betterment of the league – to an extent this is the culmination of those efforts. …
“Sun Belt football student-athletes will make everlasting memories playing in the championship game during the upcoming years. This championship will be a first-class experience –- and we look forward to it being a launching-pad for a team to reach the College Football Playoff’s ‘New Year’s Six’ bowl games.”
Prior to today’s announcement, the SBC was the only FBS league that either didn’t already contest a league title game or have one in the works.
Like the Big 12, the SBC benefitted from the deregulation of championship games earlier this year, with the nine FBS conferences, by a 7-2 margin, voting to permit leagues with fewer than the mandated 12 members to hold title games.
The SBC is currently an 11-team conference, but will lose Idaho and New Mexico State following the 2017 season. However, Coastal Carolina will become a full-fledged FBS member for the 2018 season — they’re joining the conference in football on a provisional basis in 2017 — bringing the league back up to the minimum of 10 members.
The conference has not yet decided whether it will split into two, five-team divisions. Also to be worked out: whether the title game will be played at a neutral site or at the home stadium of the team that finished with the best record.
To avoid the rush, go ahead and mark your calendars now and plan accordingly.
In a press release, Arkansas announced that they have reached an agreement on a 2017 game against New Mexico State. The game will, of course, be played in Fayetteville and is set to kick off Sept. 30, although an exact kickoff time and television network have yet to be announced.
The Razorbacks and Aggies have met five times previously, with the Hogs winning all five by a combined score of 251-67. The “closest” game came in 2003, a 48-20 UA victory.
The last meeting came in 2004, the first in 1977. All five of the games have been played in either Fayetteville or Little Rock.
Previously, UA had announced two non-conference games for the 2017 season — home matchups with FCS Coastal Carolina (Nov. 4) and TCU (to be determined). The latter is the second half of a home-and-home series, while UA will begin a home-and-home with Michigan the following year.
Apparently, Idaho’s sales pitch wasn’t as compelling as they’d like.
Two weeks ago, Idaho unveiled a 19-slide presentation aimed at continuing their football membership in the Sun Belt Conference, membership that was initially granted to both themselves and New Mexico State on four-year terms that are set to expire following the 2017 season. Looking for an extension, both football programs will instead be looking for new homes in a couple of seasons.
What does the denial of extension do to the two football programs impacted by the decision? For the Vandals, it likely means dropping down to the FCS level and joining the Big Sky conference, where there other varsity sports are currently housed. For the Aggies, whose other sports play in the WAC, which doesn’t offer football, another go as an FBS independent will likely be in the offing.
With the impending departures of Idaho and New Mexico State after the 2017 season and the addition of Coastal Carolina for that season, the SBC will settle in with 10 members two years from now. That 10-member lineup would feature teams from Texas (Texas State), Arkansas (Arkansas State), Louisiana (Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe), Alabama (South Alabama, Troy), Georgia (Georgia Southern, Georgia State), North Carolina (Appalachian State) and South Carolina (Coastal Carolina).
With the recent decision by the NCAA to deregulate conference championship games, the SBC will still be able to conduct such games with just 10 members instead of the previously-mandated 12.
UPDATED 2:51 p.m. ET: Idaho confirmed in a press release that the Sun Belt Conference has opted to go with a 10-team league following the 2017 season, putting them and New Mexico State on the outside of the conference looking in two seasons from now. The release also stated that the university will now decide whether to accept an invitation to join the Big Sky of the FCS or compete as an independent at the FBS level.
Score one for the Big 12.
The league won, by a 7 to 2 vote (the AAC and ACC were the two dissenters), approval to stage a championship game as a 10-team league, removing the requirement that conferences must consist of at least 12 teams split in two divisions to stage a title game.
Moving forward, conferences will have the ability to play a championship game as a 10-team conference as long as its round-robin schedule remains intact.
While much of the focus centers on the Big 12, the Sun Belt has also weighed the merits of staging a championship game with less than 12 teams.
The obvious losers here at Cincinnati, BYU, Memphis, Houston, Connecticut and any other team clinging to the hope of a forced expansion being their ticket to the Big 12. It could also be a blow for Idaho and New Mexico State, as their geographically-messy and competitively-challenged membership is no longer required to hold a championship.
Now, will Wednesday’s news push the Big 12 to actually stage a championship game?
Big 12 executives scheduled to meet Feb. 4, so expect the first layer of that onion to be peeled then.
Big 12 commish Bob Bowlsby was also unsure how it would go about picking the two teams to play in its hypothetical championship game (hint: it’s the teams at the top of the standings). Allow me to plug the alternate championship idea first presented in this space a year ago.
One thing Bowlsby seemed pretty sure of? The money.
And as we all know, in college football, money remains undefeated.