Is It Time for The Sun Belt and CUSA to Realign? – From the Bird’s Nest
When you get down to it, it's something that's been suggested, mostly by fans, for a few years now.
But with the Big 12 deciding not to expand, and no shuffling on the horizon, maybe the idea finally has some merit.
That's the thought of Michael Smith, a staff writer from Sports Business Daily, who believes it's time for the Sun Belt and Conference USA to combine and divide according to geography.
It's not the first time I've seen it brought up. I've even worked on it a bit myself. But Smith looks at it from a business standpoint. With TV revenues dipping for Group of Five schools, the thought of more geographic realignment is starting to pick up steam. The thinking is lowered travel costs, plus more regional rivalries resulting in better ticket sales is one way Group of Five schools, specifically the Sun Belt and CUSA, can make their leagues and schools better.
There are 24 football playing schools in the two leagues (UTA and Little Rock are non-football entities in the Sun Belt.) Smith's idea is two combine the five Texas schools (UTEP, UTSA, North Texas, Rice and Texas State) with Arkansas State, Louisiana Tech, Louisiana, Southern Miss and the three Alabama schools (UAB, Troy, USA) and form a twelve team league. The remaining schools, FIU, FAU, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Coastal Carolina, Charlotte, App State, Marshall, WKU, MTSU, Old Dominion and James Madison would form the other league.
James Madison would be an addition. The school has expressed an interest in playing FBS football and their roughly $40 million dollar budget would be in line with many of the peer schools.
But the idea also eliminated ULM. The school, which has been playing in the Sun Belt in all sports for the past decade, has an athletic budget substantially lower than any of the other schools in the league and doesn't seem to have a plan for getting that budget up to competitive levels. That has led many to question their future in the FBS.
When I was thinking about this after the Big 12 made its decision, I, too had eliminated ULM. My plan, however, did not have James Madison. I had New Mexico State in as a travel partner for UTEP and had UAB on the eastern side. From a geographic standpoint, Smith's idea might make more sense since it keeps the Alabama schools together.
But regardless of the particulars, it's interesting someone other than fans on message boards or administrators just thinking out loud is making the suggestion. And, the scary thing for other administrators not interested in talking about it, is it makes absolute sense.
At some point in time, egos are going to have to be put aside.
This is as good a time as any. In fact, it might be getting to the critical stage.