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Sunbelt makes it official

The Troy State athletics department got what it expected Friday, an invitation to join the Sunbelt Conference.

North Texas University President Norval Pohl officially extended the invitation on a conference call to Troy State Chancellor Jack Hawkins Jr. and Athletics Director Johnny Williams. Hawkins, who was given the authority to accept the invitation by the Board of Trustees earlier in the spring, immediately accepted the invitation.

"We gladly and enthusiastically accept the invitation," Hawkins said.

Troy State's football program will join the Sunbelt in 2004, and the rest of the sports should start play beginning in the fall of 2005. Troy State will notify the Atlantic Sun Conference of its intent to withdraw, and the expected two-year withdrawal process will make Troy State eligible to move all its sports into the Sunbelt by Aug. 1, 2005.

"This is a huge day for us," Williams said. "This has been just another big event that has occurred during this spring for out athletics program."

The Sunbelt also gained a good bit this week. Thursday, the Idaho State board of Education voted to allow the University of Idaho to move all its sports to the Sunbelt. The Vandals play in the Sunbelt in football, but other sports play in the Big West Conference.

With the addition of Idaho and Troy State, the Sunbelt now has its needed eight full-time football-playing members to remain a Division I-A conference.

"We've taken a big step toward ensuring our future as a conference," Sunbelt Commissioner Wright Waters said.

The conference will have, by 2005, 14 full-time members. After Utah State, Idaho and Troy State finally move all their sports into the conference, the geographic boundaries of the conference will be stretched through all four mainland time zones.

Florida International, Western Kentucky, Arkansas-Little Rock, Arkansas State, Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Lafayette, New Mexico State, Denver, New Orleans, South Alabama, North Texas, Idaho, Utah State and Troy State will comprise the conference on Aug. 1, 2005. Louisiana-Monroe is a football-only school and may not even field a football team in the near future. Louisiana newspapers have suggested that Monroe may return to Division I-AA and the Southland Conference to renew the rivalry with Southeastern Louisiana.

Of course, one of the major considerations concerning the conference is travel expenses. The travel budget for track teams going from Miami, Fla. (FIU) to Moscow, Idaho would be very high.

Therefore, the conference has studied the logistics of a three-region division for sports other than football. Many of the involved schools do not field football (UALR, Denver, New Orleans, South Alabama) or they play at the Division I-AA level (Western Kentucky and Florida International), so different ideas have been advanced.

For basketball, the 5-4-5 "model" seems to be the most likely. In that scenario, five teams would be in the west, four in the central and five in the east. Teams would play everyone in their division twice, and a couple of teams from the central once.

"We devised a model based solely on travel costs," Waters said. "I'm sure once the AD's get a hold of it, it will look completely different, because there is still the issue of competitive balance. Somewhere between financial costs and competitive balance is the perfect model."