Sun Belt is Going to Grow – From the Bird’s Nest
When he was named Sun Belt Commissioner in February, Karl Benson said expansion was a part of his agenda. And, he said, he had identified teams he felt would be beneficial to the league.
It appears the expansion will come sooner, rather than later. And, just who it will be has been a topic fans of the Sun Belt and other leagues have been talking about on message boards for weeks now.
Fans of teams in the western part of the league (Louisiana, North Texas, Arkansas State, UALR, ULM) are looking in the western part of the league for candidates. The others, closer to the eastern edge (Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Troy, South Alabama, FIU and FAU) are looking more to the east, where several schools are rumbling about playing FBS football in the near future.
Such a school is Georgia State.
You say poTAYto. I say paTAHto.
The semantics may be different, but here's the bottom line: The Panthers are coming into the league. And, it could (and probably will) be as soon as the 2013-14 season. The Colonial, where GSU houses its sports, is expected to significantly raise its exit fee (reports say to $1 million). GSU is expected to give notice of departure before that vote is taken.
Georgia State has only been playing football at the FCS level for two years. They got quite a writeup in ESPN: The Magazine when they started up, specifically because they played Alabama in their first season of football. Bill Curry, the former Alabama head football coach, is the coach at GSU. They could declare their intention to go to the FBS by June of this year. If they do, they would play as a transitional member in 2013 (as South Alabama is this year) and be a full fledged member by the 2014 season.
Personally, I don't think there's any rush.
Right now the Sun Belt has a non-football member in Arkansas-Little Rock. Having one more in the East would help to balance things out. That would give GSU another year or two to follow South Alabama's lead and play another season or two as an FCS independent before moving up. We've seen what can happen when schools make the move before they're really ready (FIU was just terrible for several years before Mario Cristobal helped to right the ship.) And, while the South Florida Panthers have been in bowls the last two years, they spent a boatload of time and money getting to that point while trying to compete in the highest level of football competition.
But, regardless of when the football move comes about, the bottom line is the Peach State Panthers are coming into the league.
The question arises, who will join them?
In his introductory press conference, Benson said he was looking for schools that "fit the geographic footprint" of the Sun Belt. Most took that to mean from Texas to the East Coast, and no further north than Bowling Green or Jonesboro. He also said current FBS schools and schools that were planning to make the move would be considered.
An earlier CBSSports article said Texas-San Antonio and Charlotte were prime candidates. But, since then, reports have surfaced the Roadrunners are making a big push to get into the CUSA/MWC conglomerate. Charlotte, from a football standpoint, isn't ready and probably won't be for a few years. And, Charlotte is unlikely to leave the Atlantic-10 for the Sun Belt while waiting for its football to mature.
Given South Alabama and Georgia State's fledging programs, it's not likely the Sun Belt is going to do some mass additions of more FBS newbies. The exception would be UTSA, which has a market size that is attractive to more than one league. And, no other school seems to have mass appeal at this time.
Texas State? Maybe, but probably not as long as North Texas remains a member of the Sun Belt. Appalachian State? Western schools aren't enamored with the difficulty of travel to Boone, NC. Old Dominion? They aren't ready yet and even if they are, does the geographic footprint fit? Georgia Southern? They haven't come forward and said they're going to move to the FBS and even if they do, Statesboro isn't Atlanta.
And then, of course, there is Louisiana Tech. The Ruston school is like the homely girl at the school dance, waiting for the good looking boy to approach and ask her to dance. That girl has been sitting and waiting now for about a decade. And, the dance is almost over. If that good looking boy doesn't walk over soon, the girl will have to dance with the guy with (according to her) pimples and horn-rimmed glasses.
There have been rumblings concerning present membership in the league. Currently at ten football playing members, the Sun Belt can lose two (three if GSU comes in ) and still be a viable league. More than half the league has been mentioned as possible invitees to the MWC/CUSA hodgepodge. Conventional wisdom believes two, FIU and North Texas, have the best chance at an invite. If only two leave, the Sun Belt will have nine schools (counting Georgia State) playing football and ten overall. Those are pretty good numbers.
But Benson has said he'd like to go to twelve for football.
UTSA, because of their market size, and Louisiana Tech, the most established football program that might be available, would be the targets if I were Benson, or one of the CEO's in the league. It's no secret both would like to be a part of that MWC/CUSA thingy. The only problem is, that league may not make its plans known until June.
It's going to be interesting to see if Benson and the CEO's are willing to wait that long.