Sun Belt Conference to add title game in 2018
The Sun Belt conference announced the addition of a conference championship game for the 2018 season on June 8 after Sun Belt presidents, chancellors and athletic directors unanimously approved the motion at the Shannon Room in the Renaissance Concourse Atlanta Airport Hotel.
The decision means the conference will no longer have to split a conference title like in 2013 with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Arkansas State.
“We are excited about the Sun Belt Conference championship game,” said Louisiana-Lafayette head football coach Mark Hudspeth. “The championship game will add even more excitement and exposure to already one of the most competitive conferences in the country. It will also allow the conference to name a true champion.”
Despite the championship game being approved, Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said there is still plenty of work to be done.
“We still have some work to do on the mechanics of the championship game, similar to the BIG 12 announcement last week,” Benson said. “Those decisions will most likely be made later this fall in terms of format of the championship game itself.”
When Commissioner Benson joined the Sun Belt four years ago, he said his goal was to get the conference to a point where the Sun Belt could have a title game, which at the time would require a 12-team conference per NCAA rules.
Since then, Texas State, Georgia State, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Idaho, New Mexico State and most recently Coastal Carolina joined the conference. Benson said the addition of these teams centered around his goal of adding a conference game.
The NCAA later reduced the requirement to have a title game to 10 teams. Benson said the conference would have been eligible to hold a conference tournament next season but with Idaho and New Mexico State dropping from the Sun Belt in 2017 and Coastal Carolina’s postseason eligibility beginning in 2018, the decision was made to wait until the “new era of Sun Belt football.”
Benson also said the conference won’t be engaging in any more conference realignment in the foreseeable future.
“The 10 football-playing members is the right number for the Sun Belt,” Benson said. “It now allows us to shrink our boundaries and to really maximize the geography.”
With 10 football-playing schools, Benson and his colleagues have yet to decide on whether the conference will be split into two five-team divisions based on location, or stay with 10 teams in one large division.
If it were a 10-team one-division, Benson said it would require a full round robin schedule that would result in nine conference games for each team. Because teams ultimately make their schedules years in advance, this would require scheduling changes for some teams.
If the conference is split into two five-team divisions, it would still require each team to play the four division opponents and either four or all five opponents from the other division.
Benson said the main disadvantage of splitting the conference into two five-team divisions is that the two best teams may not play against each other.
One decision that has been made, Benson said, is that the location of the title game will initially be at the site of either a division winner or the highest rated team in the Sun Belt rather than a neutral site.
“We have great fan bases,” Benson said. “We have some great facilities within the Sun Belt that we think could, and would, showcase Sun Belt football. So I think in the early stages, the route that we will take will be on one of our campuses. Again (we can’t) predict or speculate five or seven years into it, but right now I think we can expect that it will be on one of our campuses.”
For now, Benson said Sun Belt representatives would attend and try to learn from other conference title games to help make the premiere of the Sun Belt conference title game a spectacle for attendees.
“We have two full years, but that doesn’t mean we won’t start really putting together plans,” Benson said. “We want this and expect the inaugural game in 2018 will truly be a showcase type of an event.”
Follow Garrett Ohlmeyer at @GOhlmeyer for more sports updates