Just when everybody thought the dust settled when it came to conference expansion, Karl Benson and the Sun Belt Conference kick it back up.
On Wednesday, Benson announced the addition of four programs beginning July 1, 2014. Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Idaho and New Mexico State will all join the league next year — with the Vandals and Aggies serving as football-only members.
“This demonstrates a willingness by the Sun Belt to be proactive and bring in new programs that, in Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, have great potential upside,” Benson said in a teleconference. “This has been a very, very productive and historic day.”
Prior to their annexation, the Mountaineers and Eagles belonged to the Southern Conference and played in the Football Championship Subdivision. Between them, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern have nine FCS championships, with the last coming via a three-peat by the former from 2005-07.
Both schools recently spent considerable amounts of money to improve athletic facilities, notably their football stadiums.
“That’s the history and tradition with the level of success that those programs bring,” Benson said. “There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that these were the two most ready to move up.”
Idaho and New Mexico State each participated in the Western Athletic Conference from 2005 until its disbanding in 2013. Texas State beat both team in 2012 by a combined score of 100-35.
“Our final piece of the puzzle was to bring the Sun Belt membership to 12,” Benson said. “It was a whirlwind day and a process that had been ongoing for 60-90 days.”
Since the Sun Belt now has 12 members, the league can now have two, six-team divisions and a possible championship game. In the west, the Bobcats join Arkansas State, Idaho, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe and New Mexico State. Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, South Alabama, Troy and Western Kentucky are all in the east.
Many feel Western Kentucky is bound to join Conference-USA in the near future, but Benson quickly brushed that talk aside.
“We’re going to focus on what we accomplished today,” Benson said. “We set the Sun Belt in a position that, regardless of what might happen, we’re much better today than we were yesterday.”