In the Sun Belt Conference, big changes are on the horizon.
Idaho and New Mexico State have each been searching for a conference to call home for their football teams after the Western Athletic Conference dropped football due to realignment. On Tuesday, March 1, the Sun Belt made it known to the public that they would have to continue their search.
In a statement on Sunbeltsports.org, Texas State University President Dr. Denise Trauth said, “The Sun Belt’s presidents and chancellors strongly believe it is in the best interest of the conference to have a core membership of 10 football teams that are geographically located within the ‘footprint’ of the conference and that these 10 members also compete in all conference sports.”
Also, being in the Sun Belt has not been the ideal financial situation for either Idaho or New Mexico State, from a travelling cost perspective.
“Idaho and New Mexico State provide teams with a travel subsidy when Sun Belt schools play in either Las Cruces or Moscow,” Troy University Assistant Athletic Director Adam Prendergast said.
The end-all money-bagger, though, is winning on the field. This is something neither school has been known to do. In the six seasons Idaho has played in the Sun Belt, the Vandals have won just 20 percent of its games. New Mexico State has not fared much better, winning 35 percent of its games as a member of the Sun Belt.
While the two aforementioned programs will cease Sun Belt play following the 2017 season, Coastal Carolina will begin conference football competition that same season. To bring the Sun Belt to the target amount of ten teams, the league sent an invitation to the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, which was accepted in September 2015.
“The Sun Belt is a growing conference with a bright future and Coastal Carolina makes a perfect fit,” In Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said in a quote on Sunbeltsports.org. “I expect the Chanticleers to be competitive in all Sun Belt sports and to represent the conference in a first-class manner on and off the field.”
Coastal Carolina will begin Sun Belt play in all sports, except football, this academic year. The football team must undergo a mandatory two-year shift into FBS play after competing in FCS football since 2003.
While the Chanticleers bring a multitude of successful athletic programs to the Sun Belt, the football team carries with it a tradition of winning football games. Coastal Carolina has won at least a share of the Big South Conference title in seven of the thirteen years it competed in the conference.
The Sun Belt’s newest members, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, have already proven they can put a winning product on the field. Coastal Carolina will continue this trend of successful additions.
Once the ten teams were finalized, the Sun Belt voted unanimously to hold the first ever Sun Belt Conference Championship game in football, beginning in 2018.
Coaches across the league are excited about this addition, including Troy head coach Neal Brown.
“Every competitive student-athlete wants the opportunity to play in a game with a championship on the line, and this should intensify an already competitive regular season league schedule,” Brown said.
This will provide the conference with an outright champion to send to New Orleans each year after having six seasons since 2001 in which multiple teams took home a share of the title.
In an ever-changing college football world, the Sun Belt Conference has pressed all the right buttons to ensure it remains competitive for years to come.