Sure, the topic of expansion in the Sun Belt Conference may have been put on the shelf earlier this week, but the shelf life on expansion rumors is pretty limited. Matt Hogue, athletics director at Coastal Carolina, says the Sun Belt Conference has contacted his university in recent weeks, although there may be no real reason to get too excited just yet.
“We’ve been contacted and we’ve had some discussion and that’s really the extent at this point,” Hogue said in a story published by The Sun News. “That’s where we are. We can acknowledge that they have contacted us, and certainly our stance has always been we would explore any opportunities that are presented to us.”
Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson has confirmed the conference has been in conversations with both Coastal Carolina and Eastern Kentucky. The Sun Belt currently has 11 football-playing members, including a pair of associate members for football only, Idaho and New Mexico State. Full league membership does not appear to be on the table for either associate member.
“I think Eastern Kentucky has been public in declaring their interest in moving up to FBS. I think that Coastal Carolina has not made that public statement,” Benson told The Daily Advertiser in a this week. “So has Eastern Kentucky contacted the Sun Belt? Yes. Have we had conversation with Coastal Carolina and others? Yes. That’s about all I can say.”
Coastal Carolina is a rising FCS power and would seem to fit the footprint requirement the Sun Belt aims to stick to with possible expansion on the horizon. Earlier this week at Sun Belt Conference media days Benson suggested if the conference does expand, it would need to stick to its own geography. Coastal Carolina is located in South Carolina. The Sun Belt footprint includes schools in Georgia (Georgia Southern and Georgia State) and North Carolina (Appalachian State), but skips over the state of South Carolina. That makes the Chanticleers a viable and attractive option considering other FCS candidates to fill a spot in the conference. Keep in mind it is not likely the Sun Belt would be adding any FBS programs from another conference. Coastal Carolina reached the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs last season before losing a 39-32 game to eventual national champion North Dakota State. The football program started up in 2003, but has already put together five playoff appearances and seven conference titles.
Eastern Kentucky would also seem to fit in nicely, and bring the conference back to the state of Kentucky. Western Kentucky previously was a member of the conference after moving up from the FCS ranks. Since then the Hilltoppers have joined Conference USA, leaving a Kentucky void for the Sun Belt Conference. Eastern Kentucky is 44-29 since 2008, with a pair of Ohio Valley Conference championships. The program has won a pair of national titles at the FCS level, although the last came in 1982. Last year Eastern Kentucky reached the FCS playoffs, but the Colonels took an early exit at the hands of Indiana State in the first round.
If either school were to make the jump, Eastern Kentucky would appear to be more ready for the move than Coastal Carolina. The Colonels play in a stadium with a capacity of 20,000 (Roy Kidd Stadium). Minimal upgrades would be needed for seating capacity concerns compared to Coastal Carolina. Coastal Carolina’s Brooks Stadium holds just 9,214 fans. Significant expansion would need to be done in order to satisfy attendance concerns for the Sun Belt Conference.