What Does Deregulation Mean For the Sun Belt? – From the Bird’s Nest
Wednesday at the NCAA Convention in San Antonio, the Division I council voted to do away with the requirement that conferences must have at least twelve members in order to be able to hold a conference championship game.
The council's vote means the Big 12 and the Sun Belt Conference have the option to have a championship game with fewer than twelve members, provided the teams play a round robin conference schedule.
And, naturally, all of the publicity has centered around the Big 12, which was left out of the college football playoff a year ago. Speculation was the lack of a title game hurt both Baylor and TCU, which narrowly missed out on qualifying after the 2014 season.
But what does all this mean for the Sun Belt Conference?
The league has eleven teams and will welcome Coastal Carolina beginning in the 2017 football season, giving the league twelve members and the option to host a title game if it wishes.
But deregulation means the league doesn't have to have twelve, and that could spell bad news for the two football-only members, New Mexico State and Idaho.
The two schools were voted into the league in 2012 and became members prior to the 2014 season. At the time of the announcement, the league said it would be expanding to twelve teams, allowing the league to host a championship game.
Western Kentucky's decision to leave for Conference USA, however, kept the league from ever getting to twelve football members.
While Commissioner Karl Benson has been a proponent of having a conference championship game, support has been lukewarm and getting cooler.
And, now, the league has a decision to make.
When Idaho and NMSU were added, the agreement was for four years, but would be revisited after two years.
Which is now.
And, while the website underdogdynasty suggests today's decision could help the two schools remain in the league, their hypothesis would only be true if the league really, really wants a championship game right now.
The story also included a statement from Benson, who said the deregulation does not affect leagues with 12 schools, which the league would have in 2017.
But don't read too much into that statement.
The league will hold meetings in March, at which time a decision is expected to be reached concerning the future of the Aggies and Vandals. Now that twelve isn't a magic number, it's doubtful the two schools will have a ton of support to remain in the league after 2017.
However, if the league wants to hold a title game with ten members, the clause requiring a round robin conference schedule could cause issues. Virtually everyone in the league plays at least one "money game", while some schools play two or more. Fewer non conference games would make it difficult for some schools to get any kind of equity in their non conference schedules.
Which begs the question: How badly does the Sun Belt want to hold a championship game and what are they willing to do in order to accomplish it?
The league could decide to keep New Mexico State and Idaho, be a twelve team league beginning in 2017 and have a conference championship game.
Or they could stay at twelve and NOT have a championship game. But that is unlikely. The lack of success on the football field make the two schools more of a liability than anything else. With travel costs to Las Cruces and Moscow a real issue, there is no reason to keep the schools unless the league plans to have a championship game with an eight game conference schedule.
The league could also bid the two schools adieu, be a ten team league, play an eight game conference schedule and put the thought of a championship game on the back burner until further notice.
And, honestly, that seems to be the wisest move, at least right now.
Not having a title game in a ten team league would give the Sun Belt schools a chance to prepare for the round robin schedule somewhere down the road and plan ahead in their non conference scheduling to make things more equitable. (read: fewer money games.). Then, when the time is right, the SBC could implement the nine-game conference schedule and hold a title game.
Despite some improvement in their respective records this year, the reality of the situation is having Idaho and NMSU in the league hurts the Sun Belt more than helps it get better. Is the desire to have a championship game right now so important that the league should keep the schools?
I think we know the answer to that. In fact, the question may have been answered when the league chose CCU as a full member instead of NMSU. The question of "if the Sun Belt won't take NMSU's best sport (men's basketball), why would it choose to take one of their worst (football), especially if they don't have to.
I feel for the two schools. But there's empathy and there's reality. And, in this case, the two don't intersect.