Sun Belt Considers Staging Conference Championship In 2014
By Zackary DuFour
With the Sun Belt likely expanding to 12 teams for the 2014 season, the question of whether or not to create a conference championship game is being raised. In 2012, the conference decided against staging a championship, but with college football’s rapidly changing topography, Sun Belt officials are deciding to re-examine the issue.
It's important to remember that last year’s decision to forgo a championship game was made before the new postseason playoff structure was created. In 2014, a four-team football playoff will begin.
The four participating teams in the playoffs will be chosen by committee, then the league champion from the Pac-12 and the Big Ten will play in the Rose Bowl, the league champion from the SEC and Big 12 will play in the Sugar Bowl and the league champion from the ACC will play in the Orange Bowl.
Then there are the three “access bowls” that will be part of a national semifinal rotation.
The highest rated team from either the Sun Belt, Conference USA, Mountain West, Mid-American and Big East will receive a berth in one of those three bowls.
The Sun Belt could be in contention for receiving that Group of Five berth, and some believe that a title game can increase the chances of being recognized.
Of course, that plan is hardly foolproof. While commissioner Karl Benson fears that another conference’s highest-rated team could supercede a Sun Belt team in national rankings by winning a conference championship, he acknowledges that it can also hurt the Sun Belt. If a highly-ranked Sun Belt team lost their conference championship, it could potentially hurt them compared to a highly-ranked team that didn’t have to compete in a championship game.
Even with that fact, its clear that the Sun Belt will most likely have a conference championship in 2014. Part of it is simply staying in vogue with the rest of college football. The Sun Belt and the Big 12 are the only two FBS leagues that do not stage a conference championship game.
“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,” said Benson in a Q&A with www.al.com.
Perhaps the most important factor in this consideration of a title game is the Sun Belt’s recent success in 2012. If this conference championship goes according to Benson’s plan, the Sun Belt may see a radical increase in stature.
“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.” Benson said.