Karl Benson Officially Announced As New Sun Belt Commissioner

February 17, 2012 · By · Filed Under News 

As reported, Karl Benson was officially introduced as the Sun Belt’s new commissioner when Wright Waters officially steps down from his 12 years as commissioner in the coming months. Mr. Benson will join the SBC in April and will be full-time on July 1.

Troy University’s Dr. Jack Hawkins delivered the opening statement giving a history of the Sun Belt since it’s inception in 1976. The SBC is one of 11 BCS conferences since they added football in 2001. He also mentioned how the SBC is ranked sixth among the 32 Division I conferences.

He also mentioned that 90% of SBC teams have earned a multi-year progress rate of 925 or higher. But he touted that the real strength of the conference was it geographical distance between its schools being a regional conference. He said its proximity to each other fosters natural rivalries, helps to save money by reducing travel costs and makes sense for each schools fans. It also makes sense for student-athletes who have to take time away from campus to participate in athletic events.

Mr. Benson opened with a statement thanking the Sun Belt school presidents and chancellors for choosing him for his position. He mentioned that it is an uncertain time in college sports and that the Sun Belt is well positioned to take advantage of it.

He then praised Mr. Waters’, the previous Presidents and Chancellors for their leadership in continually shaping the the conference into the conference it is today.

The Sun Belt schools are gaining national attention as they build new stadiums and arenas, winning contests by both men’s and women’s teams, fan attendance at contests continually rise, and operating budgets are getting larger while more contests are being televised.

They then opened up to questions from members of the teleconference.

One of the first questions was about future plans for adding teams to the conference. “Again as we settle in and look at the potential and looking at the future of membership is an important one,” Benson said. “The Sun Belt currently has ten football-playing schools and one non-football-playing school in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Without getting specific in terms of numbers, I think that there’s an advantage to getting to at least 12 to take advantage of additional post season opportunities. Know that in the coming weeks, the Sun Belt board will establish a committee that will look to evaluate the current membership and the future membership. Chancellor Hawkins mentioned the Sun Belt footprint in terms of geography and how conducive that is for the student-athletes from a travel standpoint, a participation standpoint, and fan travel. The Sun Belt footprint also provides a pool of possible numbers that are already in that footprint: current FBS members, as well as FCS members that have indicated interest in perhaps in moving to FBS. Again it will be a very important piece in the coming months.”

Another question was about what things are attractive for current members to remain in the Sun Belt. “The fact that there has been Sun Belt members mentioned as part of the Conference USA-Mountain West merger is a testament to the program growth that the Sun Belt individual institutions have made along with the Sun Belt as a conference in general,” Benson said. “The Sun Belt has established itself as a credible, as a bona fide Division I BCS conference. I think that we hope to be able to demonstrate in the coming weeks that the future is bright for the Sun Belt that in light of the changes that have occurred in Conference USA, in the Mountain West, in the WAC, that the Sun Belt position in terms of the hierarchy of the so-called non-AQ conferences has increased tremendously, and the opportunity for the Sun Belt to succeed in a manner that will provide the current membership with greater bowl opportunities, with greater television opportunities, with greater revenue opportunities that we will be able to demonstrate that the Sun Belt is on par with any other of the non-BCS conferences.”

Another question was about how he would approach potentially adding teams from the WAC to the Sun Belt. “Right now I’m focusing on the 10 football playing members of the Sun Belt along with the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and focusing on how to make the Sun Belt a stronger conference, a more attractive conference and once I officially move into the chair, into the position, there will be a transition period where Wright [Waters] and I will be working together in the Sun Belt office,” Benson began. “At that time I will then focus on the bigger picture. It’s not the first time a commissioner moving from one conference to the other. There may be sensitivity and perhaps some awkwardness. I think everyone understands that once you change positions that you are now responsible and obligated to that conference. I will certainly do that with the Sun Belt.”


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