JOHNSON: Sun Belt future looks strong

Published 10:27 pm Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Sun Belt Conference completed its annual spring meetings this week and while no new schools were added, the future of the conference looks better than ever.

Though it is yet to be seen if the administration can position the conference to rival or even disturb the kings atop the SEC throne, it has been well documented that the Sun Belt is aggressively pursuing more bowl opportunities for its football teams and more revenue streams in all sports. That’s the name of the game these days anyway.

Whether the bowl tie-ins come sooner or later isn’t the main issue. The big question is can the league be as competitive as it grew to be with its departing members, Florida International, Florida Atlantic, North Texas and Middle Tennessee State. Western Kentucky will also bolt in 2014 but for Troy fans none of those matters.

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The Middle Tennessee lose may hurt a few feelings as Troy also losses a nice football rivalry but the additions that have been made to the Sun Belt will provide much more excitement.

South Alabama, Georgia State, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern bring natural rivalries that will make for a much more enjoyable league. How many Troy fans make the drive down for a game in Boca Raton anyway?

South Alabama and Georgia State will make great regional rivalries for Troy for years to come while Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are the darlings of the Football Championship Subdivision. When you think of old school, hard-nosed Troy football, you have to think of games against the likes of Georgia Southern and App State.

Conference USA can have the Miami media market; I’ll take Georgia Southern and Appalachian State any day.

Throw in a quality team like Texas State and Sun Belt football will be stronger than ever in coming years.

To put things into perspective, Florida Atlantic and Florida International combined averaged 13,546 fans last year. Appalachian State averaged 26,358, the most in the FBS, while Georgia Southern brought in a modest 18,487. That’s strong and will get even better when the Sun Belt rolls into town.

There are programs within the footprint of the Sun Belt that catch people’s attention, programs that draw them in. Those are the ones joining the conference not leaving.

The competitiveness of the Sun Belt Conference is a transition period away from being stronger than it even has been.