Newly minted Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson, long time commissoner of the WAC, is wasting no time in expressing his ideas on what the future of the Sun Belt could entail.
It’s what every major conference has started doing in the past couple of years. Expansion.
The conference that houses two Louisiana based universities could see their numbers swell from 9 to 12 and a conference championship game in the near future if Benson has his way. The Sun Belt will increase its membership by one in 2013 with the addition of the University of South Alabama in all-sports.
Speaking during a teleconference Thursday Benson said, “While this may be a time of uncertainty in the college sports landscape, the Sun Belt is well positioned to take advantage of this uncertainty,” Benson said during a teleconference.”
Benson also stated that he sees “an advantage to getting to at least 12.”
Currently the Sun Belt Conference stretches from Florida to Texas with members in Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Louisiana (UL-Lafayette, UL-Monroe).
Expansion to at least that many members could impact another Louisiana based school – Louisiana Tech. That’s if the newly merged Mountain West – Conference USA doesn’t poach them first.
Almost assuredly any expansion the Sun Belt makes will be at the expense of Benson’s former conference.
Currently the WAC sits at only five football members with two (Texas State, UT-San Antonio) set to join in 2013. The instability of the league makes the WAC perfect for poaching especially considering that three teams are already located in the geographic footprint of the conference with one on the outskirts (New Mexico State).
An article out of the Las Cruces Sun-News outlines the fears of New Mexico State with the news that the Sun Belt would expand. In terms of athletic success, the Aggies should worry. When it comes to market, though, they do have something to offer a conference that would likely be looking to scavenge discarded tv deals.
Other potential expansion candidates aside from New Mexico State – Louisiana Tech, Texas State, UT-San Antonio, and possibly Appalachian State (pending a FCS upgrade) – would all benefit the Sun Belt as well.
Louisiana Tech would pair with fellow Louisiana colleges ULL and ULM and other regional fits which would significantly lessen the travel miles logged by the WAC based school.
Texas State and UTSA would increase the conference’s presence in Texas while adding previously untapped markets for the Sun Belt. Adding those two would also help open up Texas even more to recruiting for the other schools.
Appalachian State, long time rumored to upgrade to FBS football, would also expand the market while adding one of the perennial powerhouses in FCS football.
Those five aforementioned schools will likely be the most discussed in regards to Sun Belt expansion.
Karl Benson, perhaps considered the grandfather of conference expansion, could even increase the conference to 14 members with the addition of four of those five schools.
Regardless, now that Benson, who has made his living and reputation on conference expansion, is at the helm the runt of all the FBS conferences will more than likely follow in the footsteps of what is the most popular trend in college athletics – expansion.