Incoming Commissioner Speaks Of Conference Expansion For Sun Belt

February 21, 2012 · Filed Under Football, Sun Belt Conference · 1 Comment 

The new incoming Sun Belt commissioner made the rounds last Friday after the announcement of his selection to replace the retiring Wright Waters.

He said that his immediate priority as the new commissioner would be to upgrade the league’s brand during this time of flux in college football. Currently Sun Belt schools who participate in football are Arkansas State,  Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Troy and Western Kentucky with South Alabama playing a full Sun Belt schedule in 2012 and joining as a full member in 2013.

Benson said, “Today is the beginning of the message that the Sun Belt Conference is going to be a player on the college landscape. We believe we provide opportunities for our existing institutions, but for any future institutions, (we) compare favorably to our peers.”

A couple Sun Belt schools have been mentioned as possible targets by the as-yet unnamed conference born out of the merger talks between Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference. Those teams mentioned have been Florida International, Florida Atlantic and North Texas.

But Benson said that maintaining a presence in both Florida and Texas is important for the conference. But he also mentioned that the conference will be in conversations with unnamed Conference-USA members about moving to the Sun Belt.

The appeal of the Sun Belt would be to allow those unnamed schools to remain in a regional conference that is more beneficial and logical to them while allowing the Sun Belt to expand to at least 12 football-participating schools.

Louisiana Tech, who is currently a member of the WAC, has publicly expressed their desire to be a part of the new Sun Belt Conference. If Louisiana Tech joins the conference, only one more football playing school would be needed for the required 12 to have a conference championship game.

While Benson was at it, he talked with Tony Barnhart and Wes Durham on their radio show on 790 The Zone. He said he was aware of other schools in the region such as Georgia State and UNC-Charlotte. While Georgia State does not have plans on moving up to the FBS, UNC-Charlotte does want to move up to FBS but does not have a timeline to do so and will only be playing their first season of football in 2013, a full year away.

While Benson’s priority would be to add existing FBS members to the conference, he would be open to schools with aspirations for FBS play if the attempted addition of current FBS schools was not fruitful for the conference.

Karl Benson Officially Announced As New Sun Belt Commissioner

February 17, 2012 · Filed Under News · Comment 

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.”

Encouraging Words From Sun Belt Commissioner

October 6, 2010 · Filed Under Football, News · Comment 

South Alabama head coach Joey Jones greeting fans during Jaguar Prowl before the Jaguars game against Kentucky Wesleyan.

Sun Belt Conference commissioner Wright Waters has some bold words as he was looking at South Alabama’s football program recently.

Fans of college football, especially SEC football, knows that South Mississippi, northwest Florida and South Alabama is quite the hotbed of talent. Just a couple of the recent players are Pat White, Julio Jones, Trent Richardson among many others have come out of this area. While South Florida is heralded as a hotbed of talent, this area is just as fertile.

But Mr. Waters’ comments were uttered at the Heron Lakes Country Club for the Cellular South 1st & 10 club. “Not to put undue pressure on Joey or Joel or Gordon, but very honestly, South Alabama can be the Boise State of the next decade.”

Boise State was in Division I-AA in the mid-90’s. Waters visited for their playoff game against Marshall back then and they weren’t ready for the game. However, we all know that Boise State has remedied that situation since then.

But the other glaring one I want to make note of is the following one as he spoke about Boise State’s recruiting. “They understand their recruiting area, they understand what’s important, they’ve done a great job of scheduling and I think those omens are here too (at South Alabama). As I look at future non-conference schedules for South Alabama, they’re not taking the $1.3 million guarantee, they’re doing it the right way and scheduling games home and away. They’ll be ready. … Joey’s been there, done that, and that’s huge.”

This year marks the 10th season the league has sponsored a championship in football. As good things have happened to the league since they added football as a championship sport.

Troy moved up to Division I-A and have done well. The changes to South Alabama has been tremendous since the announcement of the addition to football at the University.

Currently with nine football schools, South Alabama will get the Sun Belt one school closer to the minimum 12 schools for a conference championship game. However, with the loss of the University of New Orleans and the impending departure of the University of Denver, this will leave the conference with only 11 schools. Since Arkansas-Little Rock does not appear to be making any movements towards adding football, a 12 team football conference is not on the horizon just yet.

Tommy Hicks has many more quotes from Commissioner Waters in his article here.