Sun Belt Conference “moving in right direction”

Published 10:36 pm Friday, December 9, 2011

With the recent monumental shift in the college conference landscape, speculation abounds on the next moves that could possibly happen over the next few months.

To date, several major institutions have approved a change in conference affiliation.

In June 2010, the University of Colorado applied for and was granted membership into the then Pacific-10 Conference. That set off a shockwave of realignments that are still reverberating today.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Soon after Colorado’s departure, the University of Nebraska announced they were leaving the Big 12 Conference, of which they had been a member since 1907, to join the Big Ten Conference.

From there we have seen Texas A&M and Missouri join the SEC. West Virginia moved to the Big 12 and Pittsburg and Syracuse headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference. And to make things as confusing as possible TCU left the Mountain West for the Big East then retracted and joined the Big 12.

All of this chaos has caused a trickle down effect that ultimately could affect Troy and its Sun Belt Conference counterparts.

“What is going to happen next is anyone’s guess,” said athletic director Steve Dennis. “Everything that has been rumored (about other conferences) has come true.”

Naturally, followers of Sun Belt schools raised a collective eyebrow when Houston, Central Florida and Southern Methodist recently bolted Conference USA for the Big East in the conferences effort to replace Pittsburg and Syracuse. While the debate of whether the Sun Belt will be affected holds water, Dennis feels, in Troy’s case, its best remain focused on improving Trojan Nation and the Sun Belt Conference.

“I don’t foresee any changes in the future,” he said. “I think the conference is moving in the right direction.”

While the Sun Belt is an improving league, money talks and money could very well come calling on some of the conferences most promising institutions.

Rumored to be the “bell cow” of SBC schools being sighted by Conference USA is North Texas. With the coveted Dallas market just 42 miles southeast of UNT’s Denton headquarters, it would make complete sense for any expanding conference to put a target on the back of a Mean Green uniform. While nothing has been said publicly, it doesn’t take much effort to scan the terrain and pinpoint potential candidates ripened enough for extraction.

Louisiana-Lafayette proved in 2011 that, if only for one season, they could pack their stadium for all home games. The Ragin’ Cajuns filled their 31,000 seat stadium to 94 percent capacity this season averaging 29,171 fannies in the seats every game. That is a lip-licking statistic for an aspiring bidder.

Troy has appeal on the field with several high-profile professional players being groomed on the surface of Larry Blakeney field. The consensus among the Trojans powers is that the Sun Belt Conference is home. Away from the always alluring dollar, look at the advantages for Troy. The Trojans have been successful in the Sun Belt. Not just in football but in baseball and basketball. Sure, there have been peaks and valleys but for the most part Troy’s athletic program has made a smooth transition into Division I.

An in-conference rivalry with Middle Tennessee State is always productive and there is sure to be another one when South Alabama joins the conference in 2012. Not to mention, the conferences growing competitive balance. The SBC boasts four bowl eligible teams. To conferences like the SEC that may spur a chuckle but since the SBC began sponsoring football in 2001, the most bowl eligible teams the conference has produced in a single year was three in 2010. Obviously, the league is becoming more competitive.

Change is coming, however, and to say there is no way the Sun Belt Conference will be affected conference realignment is a little naïve. At some point, someone will go. And at some point someone else will join.

New Mexico State, who was a member of the Sun Belt from 2001-05, is a possibility to fill any vacancy in the SBC and Jacksonville State’s Board of Trustees approved in April to explore a football move to the FBS.

Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters announced he is retiring in July of 2012 and the new hire will have the hands of the member schools reaching out for leadership.

“I feel we have the leadership in the conference to hire and outstanding leader,” Dennis said.

With all the confidence in the progress of the conference, schools may be hard pressed to step away and into uncertainty.

Only time will tell.