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Sunbelt visits Troy State

Troy State's journey to full conference membership appears to be heading in the right direction.

Sunbelt Conference commissioner Wright Waters spoke at Troy State Tuesday following a two-day visit designed to "open dialogue" concerning conference membership. The four-person team visited the campus for two days and met all the members of the athletic department and will write a proposal for the May 23 Presidents' meeting to either recommend extending an invitation to Troy State or recommend finding another future member.

Waters said he was impressed with what he saw.

"Everything we had heard was what we found," Waters said. "We were very impressed with everything about Troy State.

"Troy State is more than the bricks and mortar; it is the people who are involved."

If the team recommends Troy State for expansion, the league presidents would have to approve the recommendation by a two-thirds majority vote. Then, the decision would rest in the hands of the Troy State Board of Trustees.

Waters is expected back in town Friday to meet with the Board of Trustees, presumably concerning this issue.

Sources close to the conference said the fact that the process has gotten this far indicates Troy State will likely be invited.

If an invitation comes to Troy State, the Trojans would begin play in football in 2004 and all other sports would start after a two-year notice is given to the Atlantic Sun.

"We have to notify them by June 1, that is the deadline," Troy State athletics director Johnny Williams said.

A membership in the Sunbelt would not affect the overall athletics makeup of Troy State. Unlike the SEC, the Sunbelt does not have any extra rules governing the gender makeup of its member schools' athletes.

The SEC requires schools to offer two more women's sports than men's sports. The Sunbelt does not.

"As long as they meet the federal guidelines governing Title IX, we don't worry about it," Waters said.

The Sunbelt is in a position to offer Troy State a full membership because of NCAA requirements regarding Division I-A football conferences. By the year 2005, all Division I-A football conferences must have eight full-time football playing members. In addition, by that time, all teams at that level must play five home I-A games.

The Sunbelt currently has six such teams, Utah State (who begins conference play this fall), Middle Tennessee, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas and New Mexico State. Idaho, who plays football only right now, has been offered a full membership and is expected to announce its decision by the end of the month. Louisiana-Monroe is a football-only member.

"If we were worried about that decision, I'd be in Idaho today," Waters said.

If Troy State becomes a member, the Trojans would be guaranteed four home games every season.

"We provide each team four home games and suggest they pick up two non-conference region games," Waters said. "New Mexico State has contracts with New Mexico and Texas-El Paso.

"These rules have forced our members to concentrate on filling their own stadiums instead of just making money."

Troy State already has contracts with UAB and Central Florida. If those contracts could be amended to supply a home-and-home situation, Troy State might be in great shape.

Of course, as is the case with all Sunbelt members, Troy State might be concerned about the loss of "money games" if six games a season are tied up.

Waters does not see that as a problem.

"These new rules also hurt the SEC teams," Waters said. "They cannot play as many home games since we have to play so many. Then they will have to start paying more for the games. I think our teams will make as much money off one money game as they do off three now."

Waters said the attendance at the schools has increased since the conference started playing football two years ago. The Sunbelt is tied into only one bowl game, the New Orleans Bowl that kicks off football season.

"The fact we are only tied into one bowl game makes every game better and more important," Waters said. "I went to the University of Alabama and was in attendance at the '69 Alabama-Ole Miss game. I thought that was the best game I ever saw until this past season. The New Mexico State-North Texas game was better than that. They were both fighting for a conference championship."