Quotes from Karl Benson/Sun Belt press conference

Published 3:37 pm Thursday, February 16, 2012

Opening statement – Dr. Jack Hawkins, Troy University


“On behalf of the presidents and chancellors of the member institutions of the Sun Belt Conference it’d be a pleasure for me to offer comments and then to introduce our next commissioner. Our conference was established in 1976 and has a distinguished record of service in Division I of the NCAA.

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In 2001 the sport of football was added, and today the Sun Belt Conference is one of only 11 BCS conferences. Our football programs have enjoyed much success. This bowl season, for example, saw three Sun Belt teams compete. Since 2005, our teams have won 50 percent of their bowl games and this exceeds the success rate of five other BCS conferences. The Sun Belt Conference is highly competitive in all sports and in baseball we rank sixth among 32 Division I conferences.


Academically, our student-athletes are successful. Ninety percent of our teams have earned a multi-year academic progress rate of 925 or higher. One of the real strengths of our conference, we believe, is the geographic footprint it enjoys in the southern Untied States Geographic proximity fosters natural rivalries, saves dollars and reduces travel costs and makes senses, not only to our fans but particualry to our student-athletes who are very sensitive to time away from the campus.


As I introduce our new commissioner, I hasten to salute the outgoing commissioner, Wright Waters. Commissioner Waters has been at the helm of the Sun Belt Conference for 12 years. And today, the Sun Belt Conference is stronger academically, athletically and financially than at any time in its history. Wright can be proud of the leadership that he’s provided.


Now it’s my pleasure to welcome to the Sun Belt Conference Mr. Karl Benson. Since 1994, Mr. Benson has distinguished himself as commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference. From 1990 to 1994 he served as commissioner of the Mid-American Conference. He has also served on the staff of the NCAA. Mr. Benson will begin his service with us in April and will assume the role of commissioner, full-time, July 1.


Commissioner Benson, it is a pleasure for me and on behalf of our institutions to welcome you and ask you to make a comment.”


Opening statement – Karl Benson


“Thank you very much Chancellor Hawkins and good afternoon everyone. I appreciate that you all have taken the time to participate in today’s teleconference. I’m truly honored to have been selected to lead the Sun Belt Conference and thank the Sun Belt presidents and chancellors for having the confidence and trust for placing me in this position.


While this may be a time of uncertainty in the college sports landscape, the Sun Belt is well positioned to take advantage of this uncertainty. Because of the leadership of the current and former presidents and chancellors, athletic directors and Wright Waters, the Sun Belt Conference is a different conference than it was five years ago, and even more different conference than ten years ago. As Chancellor Hawkins stated, the academic characteristics of the Sun Belt have improved tremendously. Its graduation rate and incoming freshman ACT/SAT scores for the general student population and even more for the student-athlete population have increased dramatically.


Athletic characteristics have too improved, as new stadiums and arenas are being built, fan attendance at contests has risen, operating budgets are getting larger, more contests are being televised, and teams in all sports – men and women – are winning games and gaining national attention.


The demographics of the 11 Sun Belt members have too changed and are changing each year in a positive way. Three Sun Belt members have student enrollment of over 30,000, three have enrollment of over 25,000, and alumni figures are growing as well. Sun Belt fans have rallied around their alma maters as gifts to the athletics departments are increasing. This is a time of tremendous growth in the Sun Belt with a tremendous upside and I’m looking forward to providing the leadership to these coming years for the Sun Belt to maximize this great potential.”


Question and Answer Session with Karl Benson


On future plans as far as adding teams to the conference…


“Again as we settle in and look at the potential and looking at the future of membership is an important one. The Sun Belt currently has ten football-playing schools and one non-football-playing school in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Without getting specific in terms of numbers, I think that there’s an advantage to getting to at least 12 to take advantage of additional post season opportunities. Know that in the coming weeks, the Sun Belt board will establish a committee that will look to evaluate the current membership and the future membership. Chancellor Hawkins mentioned the Sun Belt footprint in terms of geography and how conducive that is for the student-athletes from a travel standpoint, a participation standpoint, and fan travel. The Sun Belt footprint also provides a pool of possible numbers that are already in that footprint: current FBS members, as well as FCS members that have indicated interest in perhaps in moving to FBS. Again it will be a very important piece in the coming months.”


On what is attractive for current members to remain in the Sun Belt…


“The fact that there has been Sun Belt members mentioned as part of the Conference USA-Mountain West merger is a testament to the program growth that the Sun Belt individual institutions have made along with the Sun Belt as a conference in general. The Sun Belt has established itself as a credible, as a bona fide Division I BCS conference. I think that we hope to be able to demonstrate in the coming weeks that the future is bright for the Sun Belt that in light of the changes that have occurred in Conference USA, in the Mountain West, in the WAC, that the Sun Belt position in terms of the hierarchy of the so-called non-AQ conferences has increased tremendously, and the opportunity for the Sun Belt to succeed in a manner that will provide the current membership with greater bowl opportunities, with greater television opportunities, with greater revenue opportunities that we will be able to demonstrate that the Sun Belt is on par with any other of the non-BCS conferences.”


On handling teams currently in the WAC…


“One of the reasons that we are trying to move my position with the Sun Belt earlier than later is to address that exactly. This is a time of uncertainty and there are many moving parts with the Conference USA-Mountain West merger ongoing and the announcement they made on Monday that they are now officially moving toward that. I know that the WAC board of directors has met a couple of times to establish a transition period, a transition plan, and I will expect that they will be making an announcement soon regarding that.”


On how he’s approaching potentially adding teams from the WAC to the Sun Belt…


“Right now I’m focusing on the 10 football playing members of the Sun Belt along with the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and focusing on how to make the Sun Belt a stronger conference, a more attractive conference and once I officially move into the chair, into the position, there will be a transition period where Wright [Waters] and I will be working together in the Sun Belt office. At that time I will then focus on the bigger picture. It’s not the first time a commissioner moving from one conference to the other. There may be sensitivity and perhaps some awkwardness. I think everyone understands that once you change positions that you are now responsible and obligated to that conference. I will certainly do that with the Sun Belt.


On what leaving the WAC means on a personal level…


“I was privileged to serve the WAC for 18 years and enjoy many successes, and I look not to take that that to the next stage in my career to the Sun Belt to create new experiences and new successes. I had the privilege of being on the sidelines three times for a BCS game with a WAC team, and now I’m looking forward to being on a BCS sideline with a Sun Belt team. I look forward to putting the Sun Belt hat on and use the experiences I’ve had in the 22 years that I’ve been a Division I conference commissioner at the MAC and the 18 at the WAC and provide that experience to the Sun Belt, again in this time of tremendous opportunity and growth for the Sun Belt.”