Can Trojans find a home?

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 17, 2001

Troy State will be looking for a league of its own starting next year


Sports Editor

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Okay. It’s done already.

Everyone now knows that Troy State will be making the move to Division 1-A this upcoming football season and everyone now knows that the Trojans start it all off on Sept. 1 at No. 4 Nebraska.

But following this 2001 transition campaign into college football’s elite, Troy State will have to start taking a serious look around the nation for some type of conference affiliation.

Troy State will start this season as one of seven Division 1-A Independents. That’s out of 117 total teams.

And while fellow independent Notre Dame is able to sign television rights with NBC based solely on the Fighting Irish mystique, the Trojans can not. Ties with a conference mean, not only television exposure and shared revenue, but the prestige of winning a league title and a shot at an end-of-the-season bowl game.

According to TSU Athletic Director Johnny Williams and head coach Larry Blakeney the conference needs to be one that fits Troy State and the City of Troy’s southeast Alabama locale.

"I don’t know how soon we need a conference, but we don’t need just any conference," said Blakeney. "We need one that suits us geographically and one in which we have a chance to win a conference title and go to a bowl game. That’s the first priority."

And being one of the smaller fish in an ocean of whales, the Trojans can’t just up and join one of the southern United States’ traditional conference powerhouses. So, no SEC, no ACC and no Big East. Division 1-A is about taking baby steps to feel out the territory. To do that, the Trojans need to be able to fight it out with teams more their caliber during the season for a league title and a bowl berth.

The likeliest choices?

Conference USA or the Sun Belt.

Conference USA is looking to expand its current membership of nine programs in football to include a total of 12 teams in the near future. Conference USA started competition in football in 1996 and has excellent ties to the NCAA’s Bowl Championship Series, sending its regular season champ to the AXA Liberty Bowl, as well as teams to the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, the Bowl and the Motor City Bowl. Two members of Conference USA, Cincinnati and the University of Alabama-Birmingham, have a history with Troy State. TSU knocked off UAB 37-3 in 1993 and 60-7 in 1995, while splitting a pair of games with the Bearcats since ’94.

But it may be the Sun Belt in which Troy State’s future lies. The Sun Belt opens its inaugural season in 2001 and Troy State already faces two teams in that conference on this year’s schedule, including Louisiana-Monroe and Middle Tennessee State. The league champion plays the winner of the Mountain West in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 18.

Williams said the Sun Belt is a conference the Trojans are interested in, but knows making a decision toward league affiliation may not happen until two or three years into the future.

"We know that it may take a couple of years as a 1-A Independent and we are prepared to do that," he said. "Once we get our schedule in place, we should be fine for the next few years."

Troy State’s other 14 sports already compete in the Atlantic Sun, (formerly the TAAC), but Williams said should the need arrive a switch could be made.

"We are going to put everything we have on the table, or if it is solely football, we are willing to do that," Williams said. "We are happy in the Atlantic Sun Conference, but if that means we have to pull them out to join the Sun Belt, or Conference USA, that’s what we will do."

Blakeney favors having all TSU sports tied to a particular conference.

"I think it helps you develop rivalries across the board in all sports," he said. "I would certainly not be against us all being together, but that may not be feasible in the immediate future."

Since 1993 the Trojans are 9-3 against current Division 1-A members.