JOHNSON: Sun Belt needs Appalachian State badly

Published 12:27 pm Wednesday, May 16, 2012

As the carousel that is conference realignment continues to turn, the Sun Belt Conference is running out of quarters.

The loss of Florida International and North Texas will set the conference back a bit in terms of market size, exposure, and relativity.

Sure, the league added Georgia State and Texas State and South Alabama football will be playing for a title this year but losing two staples of the conference doesn’t help.

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The Sun Belt needs a football name. One everyone can relate to and get excited about. Appalachian State is that name but unfortunately, like FIU and North Texas, Conference USA could steal them away.

Florida International has millions of people in the Miami area to which a solid brand can be built and sold. Not to mention, the football team had shown improvement over the past three seasons under head coach and former University of Miami standout Mario Cristibal. The Panthers had never completed a season over .500 until 2010 and have done so the past two seasons. The team has earned bowl berths the last two seasons, winning one.

The FIU baseball team has also had past success and a couple of different levels including winning the Sun Belt Conference tournament in 2010.

North Texas laid the foundation for Sun Belt Conference football. The Mean Green joined the conference in 2001, the year it began sponsoring football, and won the first four conference championships. The basketball team has been one of the Sun Belt’s best in the recent past.

Though neither of these teams are juggernauts, they brought stability and value in their own way.

Appalachian State’s football program could fill the void both North Texas and FIU are leaving.

The Mountaineers average attendance last season would have ranked second in the Sun Belt and invested $50 million into facility improvements in 2009.

The university has taken a proactive position towards growth and image.

The school was the first in either North or South Carolina to install artificial turf way back in 1970.

Appalachian State is almost a carbon copy of Troy’s program when the Trojans were Division I-AA.

Aside from three consecutive national championships (2005-07), App St. and Troy have had great success at the FCS level.

The Mountaineers are 85-24 over the past eight seasons. Troy was 86-24 in its final eights seasons in I-AA.

Conference USA has made a late run at nabbing what would be its 14th football-playing school but the addition of the Mountaineers athletics program would give a bigger boost to the Sun Belt than C-USA.

Appalachian State’s football program has earned national respect under head coach Jerry Moore.

Moore, who has been at the helm of the program the past 22 seasons, has built Appalachian State into a FCS powerhouse. The Mountaineers are 207-83 under Moore, former head coach at both North Texas and Texas Tech, and have won ten games or more nine times.

The Sun Belt’s football bragging rights remain with the Trojans.

Troy doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and could use the likes of an App St. to bolster the league’s validity. FIU was on the path to rival Troy but they’re gone now.

Arkansas State has coupled recent success with large investments into its program but can they sustain it?

Conference USA or someone else could gobble Middle Tennessee State up if things fall just right. So, that leaves Troy.

The Sun Belt needs a program like Appalachian State. Everyone knows and respects their program the way they did Troy’s as it was moving up the NCAA ladder.

Georgia State, Texas State, and South Alabama may flourish and produce solid football programs but if the league wants to survive the realignment as a viable football conference, which is what they were so close to being until the big shift, they need to add programs with history and Appalachian State has just that.

Forget market sizes and TV audiences. Give us quality competition.