Sun Belt Expansion Goes Too Far
By Zackary DuFour
The Sun Belt announced Monday that it will add four teams to the conference in 2014. Georgia Southern and Appalachian State will join as full members, while New Mexico State and Idaho will become football-only programs, thereby giving the Sun Belt the 12 teams required to stage a conference playoff for the 2014 season.
Response to the decision is mixed. Some praising the addition of competitive FCS schools, while others bemoan the geographic shift.
When it comes to the addition of Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, though, its hard not to see this decision as a win for the Sun Belt, which now possesses the two most successful FCS programs in history. The schools can claim a combined nine national championships since 1985. The former Southern Conference members also will enter their new conference with a built-in rival. Due to the proximity of Georgia Southern and Appalachian State to the rest of the Sun Belt, we can also expect future rivalries within the conference.
Appalachian State’s home attendance already rivals that of current Sun Belt schools. Coupled with a football-crazy fan base that’s willing to spend money, it's a good omen for the Sun Belt.
Georgia Southern may not be far behind with a stadium renovation on the way. The Sun Belt now has more Division I teams in Georgia, one of the most football-centric states in the union, than any other conference.
The other two additions to the Sun Belt, New Mexico State and Idaho, are a different story. Although both schools have competed in the FBS for years, these WAC refugees offer little to the new Sun Belt. There’s a reason these schools were the last picked up after the dissolution of the WAC. Idaho has one winning season in the last decade. New Mexico has none. If the addition of Georgia Southern means an ocean of new recruits for the Sun Belt, the addition of New Mexico State barely constitutes a puddle.
There is also the problem of location. Prior to this expansion, the Sun Belt remained one of the few conferences in college football still geographically cohesive. Now teams will have to travel cross country for regular-season games.
Although it would’ve been nice to see the Sun Belt add up-and-coming FCS schools like Eastern Kentucky or James Madison, the decision to add New Mexico State and Idaho is somewhat understandable. At the least, both schools bring FBS experience. But it’s doubtful either team will contend in the Sun Belt in the near future.