Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sun Belt Conference meetings to begin Sunday; Conference Realignment may be the focus

James Madison, Liberty, Missouri State, Jacksonville St, Lamar and Sam Houston State are still possible candidates for Sun Belt expansion! 

The conference that lost 4 members and will be losing one more next summer, will be meeting during the Annual spring meeting beginning Sunday in Destin, Florida. The meeting will last thru Wednesday and is expected be centered on conference expansion.

We all know that Florida International, Florida Atlantic, North Texas and Middle Tennessee have all left the Sun Belt Conference for Conference USA for the upcoming season. Not only the four have exited the Sun Belt, but Western Kentucky joins them in a brand new home in CUSA as well. They said they were looking for a better conference with more exposure and revenue. Maybe CUSA offers that to them and others.

Well I want to give my input on all of this conference realignment and the positions that the Sun Belt Conference has already taken and should consider on this issue. After the departure of the Sun Belt four, they went out and search and added four additional members. Two of those four additions are FCS powerhouses (Appalachian State & Georgia Southern) that will certainly add to the Sun Belt profile and membership, and two of the programs are former members of the conference (New Mexico State & Idaho) that will be independents this season only after being without a conference when the WAC decided to abandon football. The same conference that commissioner Karl Benson formerly headed before coming to the Sun Belt Conference.

Now that Western Kentucky is leaving and joining the other Sun Belt teams in CUSA, the Sun Belt Conference is looking to find a replacement to get back to their ultimate and dream goal of 12 all sports teams. The SBC has a big task in finding that right fit to fill that open spot to get to 12 football members to stage a conference football championship game as they head into the new Football Championship Playoffs as a FBS member. The question is who will that 12th team be and how soon will they be added?

Let’s forget geographic footprint now that the Sun Belt Conference has went outside of that to add new programs early this year in New Mexico State and Idaho way out west, and you have Appalachian State up in North Carolina. But there are several other programs that could be considered for expansion to get to that magic number of 12 that is not in the footprint that the Sun Belt Conference wishes to remain in.  Missouri State, Liberty and James Madison are all outside of the geographic footprint and remain possible candidates.
Over the past couple of days and weeks all I been hearing is programs rejecting the Sun Belt Conference offers and conversations on becoming a member of the Sun Belt Conference. And then I learn that there are programs inside the conference that are rejecting programs that can possibly be a benefit for the Sun Belt Conference and help improve the conference profile.

Rejecting a program over resources, finances and religion shouldn’t be the answer to growth and expansion consideration. Why would you do that when you are about to bottom out as the WAC did and you have the same commissioner that lead the WAC now leading the Sun Belt? When will the bold leadership come forth and put politics aside for name sake? Don’t start to assume so early and accuse me of saying that our Commissioner has poor leadership skills and abilities. I believe he can get the job done, if he get the conference AD’s and presidents on board of this changing idea of conference realignment. All this conference shuffling is real and programs are looking for what’s best for them and if you don’t provide that, they will leave you.

James Madison (JMU) has been long rumor to be a possible replacement for Western Kentucky, but JMU has decided to go with a consultant to see whether a move to the FBS is reasonable and if so what conference is the best possible fit for their programs. But we all know that Old Dominion, who has just been added to CUSA, is lobbying for JMU to be a part of CUSA, Old Dominion and JMU are long time rivals and want that to continue. So if JMU are waiting on CUSA move to get to 16 teams that possible would be added, why would the Sun Belt Conference wait on JMU? 

There are other programs out there that could be seriously considered and added to the Sun Belt Conference so that the conference can move forward and continue to work to become the best of the group of five. Prolonging the matter of adding another program is prolonging progress. Several years ago many doubted that many of the current Sun Belt Conference members would be where they are today winning games, participating in bowl games and defeating BCS teams but they did it and now they are received by other conferences. The same will happen when you add other programs. Just have to prove the nay sayers wrong.

Liberty has made it known over the last couple of years that they are FBS ready and they are ready to make the move up. Liberty has been in talks with the Sun Belt Conference lately but no one really knows the outcome, besides we find out that several programs in the Sun Belt Conference is possibly rejecting Liberty. Why, your guess is better than mind right now? Some indications are that SBC members are rejecting Liberty because of resources and finances. How silly could that be, when you have a conference that rank last in conference revenue? Liberty is a program that has what the SBC needs, and should be glad to consider them as a new member. Liberty does bring finances, a renovated football stadium and a TV network. Something Sun Belt programs barely offer.

The Sun Belt Conference only pays out roughly $40,000 in revenue to its current members. Really! And you wonder why programs are leaving to go get approx $1 million or more in another conference. What can $40,000 do for a FBS program in this day? LOL! Then you only have two bowl tie-ins, and have three or four teams being bowl eligible for the post season, where do you send them when you don’t have any contractual bowls? Commissioner Benson says they are working to add at least one more bowl possibly two in 2014. It’s going to take more than that; the Sun Belt Conference is going to have to increase their conference profile, revenue and TV contract. Members are looking for more exposure and more money as a FBS member, that’s the benefit of being a FBS member right? How can you attract new members and star athletes if your conference is not attractive? Teams are looking for better than ESPN3 and CSS, LOL.  Why not go out a get more television contracts with other networks such as the new FOX Sports Network, CBS Network and or NBC Sports Networks. Those networks are carried over several distributors, where I live in the North Mobile area, we can’t even see CSS programming but we have a Sun Belt Conference team. - LOL.  ESPN and Comcast is not the only sports network around anymore. The revenue is out there, just have to go and get it.

Missouri State is another program that could be consider and believed to wanting in a FBS conference, even Jacksonville State, Lamar and Sam Houston State.

The wise move that the Sun Belt Conference could make at this time is to add two more programs it want hurt much more than help. It would put the conference in a position to overcome all this conference realignment and settle the dust among the group of five just in case the dust come dusting up again in the near future. What I mean is, if CUSA decides to go to 16 teams and add one from the SBC and add JMU, the Sun Belt Conference will be in a position to still have 12 members. Why? Because they has one extra member that will help balance the conference if the dust come dusting up again.  Liberty and Missouri State would be the two that I would go after or even Lamar or Sam Houston State to get a stronger presence in Texas.

Waiting on the chickens will cause you to starve; you have to go get them so you can eat. We will wait to possibly Tuesday to see if anything happens with his issue as the Sun Belt Conference meet in Destin, FL.