Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Sunbelt--Searching for Number 12

A lot has happened since I took an extended hiatus from sports blogging.  Rather than try to recap it all I'm just going to jump right in with a current realignment issue.  The Sunbelt is currently set to have 11 members next season, 9 of whom play football.  They have also graciously extended football only invitations to the final two WAC refugees New Mexico St and Idaho bringing their football membership up to 11.  11 is a really pointless number of members to have--you can't have a championship game and you reduce the likelihood of each member winning a championship as well as dilute rivalries.  This seems especially silly when you consider that your two affiliates in football are big geographic outliers.  So lets consider options for membership:

James Madison---They want to be an FBS school. They have the means to be an FBS school. The problem is they want to be in the same conference as Old Dominion and right now ODU is in C-USA and C-USA isn't issuing invitations.  The SBC isn't even their second choice--they are intrigued by the idea that the MAC might expand east and they could go there, potentially with nearby Delaware.

Liberty--Liberty has also gone on record stating that they would like to move up.  Much like James Madison, they are North and East of the existing footprint.  There are also some concerns about Liberty's religious affiliation which is preventing them from being a contender for the SBC opening.

Lamar--Lamar is almost ready to go to FBS but the problem with Lamar is that the SBC needs a new member in the East not the West.

Jacksonville St--The Gamecocks could potentially make the jump but they would be a third Alabama school and I don't think the SBC wants that especially Troy and South Alabama.

an HBCU like Tennessee St or Florida A&M--These schools each have a ton of fan support and would fit in the footprint and fulfill that Eastern need but I don't think either school has the money to upgrade and for Florida A&M I don't think they want to break from tradition and stop playing a conference slate of primarily other HBCU's.

I think the logical solution for the SBC is to hold at 11 and either consider bringing in UMass as a football affiliate or dropping Idaho.  UMass at the moment is sitting their football program in the MAC but according to the internet rumor the MAC is pushing UMass to either commit for all-sports or leave.  The Atlantic Ten, UMass's home for their other sports, is a better league in the MAC so I don't UMass is going to want to make that move.  The Sunbelt could give them a no-strings attached football affiliateship for a few years until they either find a more suitable home for all their sports (they want in the AAC but right now it seems UConn is blocking them) or decide that FBS football isn't working out and go back to FCS.