Statement from Commissioner Karl Benson:
“The leadership of the Sun Belt Conference’s ten future members took the time to meet this morning and discuss the direction of our conference. While there was a great deal of important discussion, there have not been any invitations extended to those interested in joining our league. We continue to focus on the future strength of this league and we are to going to add additional members soon. We feel that the Sun Belt Conference has options – and they are good options.”
When I came in to the Sun Belt there was an expectation that a new Sun Belt would be built, with new structure, with more strength. However, if you look around the NCAA at other conferences, changes have been unprecedented. So we are here tonight with some uncertainty. Nevertheless, the goals of the Sun Belt have stayed the same. One of the reasons I took this job was because the Sun Belt has great options. There are schools within our footprint that want to be in our conference, and this gives us many options and alternatives. This was also the case a year ago when Texas State, Georgia State and Texas-Arlington joined the league. Even then, there were several others who expressed interest in our league and we told them they would stay in our vision.
On whether the Sun Belt needs to get to 12 football schools:
Right now we are looking at our potential pool of members that we feel have great value. I told all of our members after Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic departed that we want to keep the same goals that we established a year ago. We want to create two geographic divisions and make sure there’s at least 10 football schools while considering the option of 12. Our meeting today focused on our goals and re-established what we have called the “10-12 Model” where we have 10 football schools and 12 overall. We also want to make sure that the schools in our league make sense geographically and are regionally aligned. Within the next 30 days I expect us to be able to be in a position to announce what the new structure is going to be. If we wanted to add teams right now, we could do that this afternoon. We could add two all-sport schools, four schools with a mix of football and non-football, and we can mix and match if we wanted to right now. Though we want to be selective and make all the correct decisions. It takes time to get all of the members presidents, chancellors, AD’s, fan bases and media that we are getting to the right spot. I stand extremely optimistic even after losing two of our members.
On whether a football championship game is being considered:
We have also talked about the strong possibility of having a football championship game. That discussion was not finished, but we will continue to talk about option. The new postseason football structure starting in 2014 can have an influence as to whether we move to 12 teams and a championship game. Other conferences are starting to implement a championship game and if we don’t move to this then our top-team can be leaped on the final weekend because of not playing. We also recognized that we are one of five conferences that will be in contention for one automatic qualifying spot in the new playoff system. So a championship game is something we are seriously considering if it allows us to have a better chance of having a top-team.
There’s no reason that a Sun Belt team cannot accomplish what Boise State did over the last 10 years or so. This past year was the best football season in our league’s history with the best overall rankings. I saw signs within the conference of teams that have ingredients of being a Boise State-like program. I am very optimistic of the future of Sun Belt football.
On whether any potential members were finalized today:
No decisions were made today to extend invitations to any school. We evaluated about 20 different perspective members and will continue to move forward with that.
On future bowl arrangements and the possibility of adding more:
About 90 percent of the current bowl arrangements run through the 2013 season. Right now, every conference is trying to re-up its current existing agreements and we have done that as well. We are talking with existing bowls about 2014 and beyond about openings to add more bids. We are also talking about adding three more start-up bowls that want to launch a game. Our expectation is that we will have at least three guaranteed bowl spots for 2014. We may even be able to do that for 2013 as there are many negotiations going on right now. We will have better bowl opportunities in the upcoming seasons.
There is a lot of support about getting to 12 football members but there’s also some reservation. One of my jobs is to be a consensus builder and listen to everyone’s point of view. A strong conference is one that can agree upon what’s in the best interest of everyone in the league. I’ve been trying to build consensus for the last 60 days and we made the correct decision back in December to not move immediately after MT and FAU departed. We let the dust settle and we have been able to explore all of our options in the best interested of the conference.
On potential members and whether they are mainly FCS:
Many of the perspective schools in the pool fit the bill. The majority of the schools we are looking at are FCS, but we do acknowledge that New Mexico State and Idaho are in need a conference and are being assessed. We are looking specifically for schools that will add stability and value. We also are exploring the possibility of football-only members, and it’s not just limited to NMSU and Idaho. We have created a lot of maps with different possibilities that would fit many of our needs including geography.
On whether there are there any concerns about current members leaving to go to another conference:
The fact that we have so many strong options right now can allow us to change our plans and go to plan-B if a current member were to leave. This is what makes the Sun Belt so attractive, there are so many options.