A-Sun officials will tour Troy State next week

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 1, 2003

In a day when good news for football programs is rare across the state, Troy State received some of good news Thursday.

The Sunbelt Conference announced it will visit the Troy State campus Monday and Tuesday to "initiate conversation for possible membership opportunities." Conference commissioner Wright Waters will hold a press conference at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Tine Davis Field House.

Although the news does not officially guarantee Troy State a spot in the conference, the Trojans are excited about the news.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

"I'm excited about the Sunbelt," head coach Larry Blakeney said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's a necessary part of our growth as a Division I-A program to be in a conference. We need to be able to play for a bowl game; our players need to be able to be eligible for all-conference and all-freshman teams."

The Sunbelt winner plays in the New Orleans Bowl Dec. 16 against a representative from Conference-USA. Last season, North Texas defeated Cincinnati 24-19. North Texas has been the conference's representative in each of the first two seasons.

Waters will be joined by at least four other conference officials during the tour. He and CEO Norval Pohl of North Texas, faculty representative Bill McKee of North Texas, Athletics Director Joe Gottfried from the University of South Alabama and Senior Women's. The group will meet representatives of Troy State and will tour the facilities.

Waters said the fact that the conference was making a trip is a good sign.

"This means we have enough interest to come visit," Waters said.

Based on the visit, the conference officials will recommend to the presidents of member schools later this month for their meeting. Sources at Troy State said the presidents are expected to offer an official invitation to Troy State.

At that time, Troy State's board of trustees will have to decide whether to accept the invitation or not.

"I don't know what they will do. I really can't say," Troy State athletics director Johnny Williams said. "It's not what I want, it's what they want to do."

Part of the mutual attraction between the school and the conference is geography. Several schools are close enough to spark natural rivalries with Troy State.

Middle Tennessee State is only a few hours away in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and in non-football sports, South Alabama is an in-state rivalry waiting to be born.

"South Alabama is a natural rival for us," Williams said.

Of course, the Trojans lost in-state conference rivalries with Jacksonville State and Samford when the two left the Atlantic Sun Conference effective at the end of this season.

In football, Troy State has a history with several programs. Troy State has played several games in its history against Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana-Lafayette, Middle Tennessee and North Texas, all conference members. Troy State defeated North Texas two years ago when the Green Wave won the initial conference championship.

"We know these teams well," Blakeney said. "We have played them before."

Troy State plays four conference members this season. The Trojans play on the road against North Texas, Utah State, Middle Tennessee and at home against Louisiana-Monroe.

That rivalry was also a selling point to the conference. Although the conference stretches from Florida International in southern Florida to Moscow, Idaho, Waters said the conference is trying to minimize travel.

"We want to cut travel as much as we can," Waters said. "Troy's locale was important to our decision."

Waters mentioned splitting the league into geographic divisions to avoid having FIU at Idaho volleyball games.