Sun Belt Looks To Catch C-USA, Mountain West Conferences

August 30, 2012 · By · Filed Under Football, Sun Belt Conference 

Ralph Russo, an AP College Football writer, published a piece on Yahoo! Sports this week about the Sun Belt Conference aiming to catch Conference-USA and the Mountain West as being the “best of the rest” conference.

The Sun Belt is now 10 years old and up until now they have been considered among the lower end of the “have-not” conferences. But they continue to take small steps forward amongst its peer conferences. Last year the Sun Belt tallied a 7-6 record against their peer conferences.

They finished the season with a 5-2 record against Conference-USA. C-USA is their direct competition in the region for players, attention and even schools most recently as they will be adding Florida International and North Texas from the Sun Belt next season.

“The goal of the Sun Belt right now is to be the best of the quote, ‘below the line conferences,'” Benson is quoted in the article. “There’s going to be five (conferences) above the line and five below the line. The Sun Belt’s goal is going to be to compete with those other conferences.”

Troy University President Jack Hawkins was quoted from an email sent to the AP in the article as well. “In my estimation the competitive position of the Sun Belt exceeds its ‘brand,'” he said. “This will change very soon. When its brand matches reality, the Sun Belt will equal or exceed several non-AQ (automatic qualifier) conferences it sought to emulate just a few years ago.”

Recently the WAC announced this will be it’s last season as a football conference. This was after Carl Benson took over the Sun Belt Commissioner spot after Wright Waters announced his retirement earlier this year. He led the WAC through 17 years of almost constant change.

The dominoes of conference realignment fell this past offseason when the Mountain West Conference rebuilt itself after losing schools to the ACC to fill spots left when schools left the ACC for the Big East and the Big 12. The Mountain West added schools from the WAC. C-USA lost schools to the ACC as well and raided the Sun Belt for Florida International and North Texas to fill empty spots.

Additionally, C-USA will be adding Texas-San Antonio who some thought the Sun Belt was interested in adding.

After losing two schools, the Sun Belt was quick to add two football schools, both from lower divisions to fill their empty slots. Georgia State, who began football in 2010, and Texas State who will play in the WAC as a transitional team in 2012. Benson also added Texas-Arlington as a second non-football school to replace Denver University and compliment Arkansas-Little Rock who also does not sponsor football.

The Sun Belt, like their peer conferences, typically schedule a number of “upper tier” schools for what most people call “money games.” These games are scheduled without a guarantee of a return game and often pay upwards of $1 millions these days.

Benson would like to see this change in favor of playing more games against peer conferences. “We’ve talked about scheduling philosophy, scheduling strategy. Ideally we’d like to establish across the board some scheduling parameters that would limit those guarantee games to one a year,” Benson was quoted as saying.

Western Kentucky is adopting that philosophy. According to the schools president, they are limiting themselves to one single-game contract per year. This season they have a single-game contract with the University of Alabama, they play FCS Austin Peay as their version of a guarantee game, then a sort of rivalry with Kentucky and a home game against Southern Miss.

South Alabama somewhat adopted that philosophy too it seems. But they have been scheduling two-for-one’s with some members of the “upper tier” conferences. The Jags are currently in the midst of series with N.C. State where they travel to Raleigh twice (2011, 2012) for a sincle return game in Mobile (2015) and Kent State (2011, 2012 and in Mobile 2013). They also have similar contracts with Tulane, Oklahoma State and Mississippi State for future schedules.

But the Jags also have money games on the horizon as well. They have single game contracts with Tennessee, Georgia, Nebraska (x2), LSU and Ole Miss. But these, similarly to WKU, are limited to one per season.

As Benson points out to Russo, “What my goal would be is for the Sun Belt to enhance our assets, our characteristics, so if and when the time comes that Conference USA comes looking to the Sun Belt for a replacement team because Conference USA lost school A, B or C, that the Sun Belt member will look at what the Sun Belt provides and come to the conclusion that there’s no reason for us to leave the Sun Belt.”

What the conference needs to do is to expand to 12 football schools. Why do they need to do this? They need a conference championship game.

The extra game for the conference would bring in lots of revenue for the conference. But the television exposure could be worth just as much. This game would be one of only seven or eight games that weekend. But who do you add?

You can read his article at Yahoo! Sports here.

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