CCU To Sun Belt: If You Ask, We’ll Say Yes
Ever since the Sun Belt Conference and the media got together back on July 20th, the speculation about the league adding a twelfth member has (once again) become a main topic of conversation.
After the meetings, Commissioner Karl Benson told The Advertiser's Tim Buckley the league had had preliminary discussions with Coastal Carolina out of the Big South Conference and Eastern Kentucky of the Ohio Valley Conference. Benson also said the possible addition of a program would not necessarily be driven by football, but rather Olympic Sports and to identify a travel partner for Appalachian State.
Last week, an eight-person group representing the Sun Belt visited CCU after visiting EKU previously. This week the committee will make a formal visit to New Mexico State in Las Cruces.
Ryan Young of the Myrtle Beach Sun News reported Friday that CCU President David DeCenzo has publicly stated his school will accept a bid to join the league if an offer is extended.
It is believed the committee will present only one of the two schools as a candidate for membership to the full slate of presidents and athletic directors. The full membership would then compare that school with New Mexico State and take a vote to see if either school can get the nine votes necessary (out of eleven) for either school to get an invite.
New Mexico State already is in the league for football, is a long-time member of the Football Bowl Subdivision and has had consistent success in men's basketball. In addtion, NMSU has a relationship with several schools in the league, having been a full member of the Sun Belt in the early 2000's. Coastal Carolina and Eastern Kentucky both play FCS football and would have to go through a transitional period before being able to compete for a conference title and a bowl bid. Both schools have had basketball success in the past and Coastal has been a perennial power in baseball.
And, while other things will certainly be considered in choosing a favorite (academics, endowment, degree programs, athletic budget, travel costs and facilities), geography will play a part as well.
Right now, the Sun Belt has a fairly compact western side with two schools in Texas (Texas State, UT Arlington), two in Louisiana (Louisiana and ULM) and two in Arkansas (Arkansas State and Little Rock.) UTA and LR do not play football. Adding either EKU or CCU would keep the west intact and the school selected would pair with Appalachian State as a travel partner. Both schools are a little over four hours from App.
A New Mexico State addition would mean one school, presumably Louisiana, would move east to pair with South Alabama. In football, membership would remain at eleven schools. Regardless of the configuration, there is no argument travel costs would be higher with New Mexico State than with either CCU or EKU. While that would seem to put NMSU at a disadvantage in comparison, it wouldn't necessarily preclude them from getting an invitation.
It is expected the full membership will meet toward the end of the month to make a decision, which could be to issue no invitation at all. If a school is selected, they could be ready to join the league in Olympic sports as early as the 2016-17 athletic year.