Sun Belt delays expanding to 12 teams
The Sun Belt Conference is putting plans to expand to 12 teams on hold, probably until after the 2014 football season, league Commissioner Karl Benson said.
Speaking after Wednesday's conclusion of conference meetings in Destin, Fla., Benson said Sun Belt members are comfortable with having 11 teams in 2014, and do not want to rush to add another school simply so the conference can hold a championship game for football.
"We believe that even though we may have to wait an extra year, that we need to get it right," Benson said. "We need to make sure that the total pool of prospective members is given an opportunity to develop."
The league wants any new school to be a good geographical fit, officials said, adding that the decision to wait is also aimed at promoting stability in a league that is currently undergoing significant changes in membership.
"At some point, this whole conference realignment issue across this country has to use some common sense," said Sun Belt Conference President and Troy University Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr. "I do hope it's more stable. I hope there's less movement and I hope that conferences across America will mature just a bit before they react in a knee-jerk fashion."
Four schools — North Texas, Florida International, Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee — are leaving this summer for Conference USA. A fifth, Western Kentucky, joins Conference USA in July 2014.
Meanwhile, the Sun Belt is adding seven new members, two of which are joining for football only and which will be replaced by two other non-football-playing members in all other sports.
Georgia State and Texas State are joining in all sports this summer. Next summer, the league will add Appalachian State and Georgia Southern in all sports, as well as Idaho and New Mexico in football.
Current member Arkansas-Little Rock and incoming member Texas-Arlington will compete in sports other than football.
The Sun Belt will have eight football teams this coming season: Arkansas State, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Texas State, Troy, South Alabama and Western Kentucky. The league also has two current bowl tie-ins with the New Orleans Bowl and the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Benson said the Sun Belt hopes to add at least a third tie-in with a new bowl this summer, mentioning a proposed bowl in Little Rock as a strong candidate.
"The Sun Belt Conference is very, very interested in Little Rock as a potential bowl site," Benson said. He added he has been in talks with organizers of another potential bowl site, but said it was too early to offer specifics.
Sun Belt members went into the league's spring meetings after being courted by a handful of schools that are looking to join the conference as a 12th member.
Liberty was the only candidate Benson was willing to mention. Jacksonville State, Sam Houston, Lamar and James Madison also have reportedly expressed interest.
"Liberty University received strong consideration," Benson said. "However, the timing of making any further additions was delayed for various reasons. But that's probably about all that we can really discuss at this time in regard to any individual universities that may have applications to be considered."