FISCAL REALITIES: Sun Belt Conference Drops Idaho, New Mexico State Football In 2018

FISCAL REALITIES: Sun Belt Conference Drops Idaho, New Mexico State Football In 2018
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By David Rogers. March 1, 2016. NEW ORLEANS, LA — A regional geographic footprint, an “all schools, all-sports” orientation, and elevating the league’s national profile were driving forces behind the Sun Belt Conference’s decision to “shrink” itself to a 10-team football conference beginning with the 2018 season, Sun Belt officials announced today.

According to a press release received by Blowing Rock News on Tuesday, “Sun Belt Conference Presidents and Chancellors made the decision to be a 10-team league rather than extend the current membership agreements tat are in place with the University of Idaho and New Mexico State University. Those agreements will now expire following the 2017 football season.”

This was a strategic decision.

Administrators, coaches and student athletes at Sun Belt Conference schools have frequently lamented to reporters in interviews the costs in dollars, travel time, and lost academic study because of the far flung geographic footprint of the conference. Coastal Carolina University will join the Sun Belt in 2017, so dropping the much further west Idaho and New Mexico State will create a more manageable competitive environment.

“This was a strategic decision that was reached following a thorough and complete review of our options,” said Sun Belt Conference and Texas State University President Dr. Denise Trauth. “The Sun Belt’s Presidents and Chancellors strongly believe it is in the best interest of the conference to have a core membership of 10 football teams that are geographically located within the ‘footprint’ of the conference and that these 10 members also compete in all conference sports.  This decision, along with the full 12-team membership that goes into place for the 2016-17 season with the addition of Coastal Carolina University, will reduce travel demands and missed class time for all Sun Belt student-athletes – while also furthering the development of regional rivalries within the conference.”

With the new configuration, the football schools (and the number of sports in which they currently compete) will include:

  • North Carolina — Appalachian State (18)
  • South Carolina — Coastal Carolina (18)
  • Georgia — Georgia Southern (15), Georgia State (15)
  • Alabama — Troy (13), South Alabama (15)
  • Arkansas — Arkansas State (14)
  • Louisiana — Louisiana-Lafayette (14), Louisiana-Monroe (15)
  • Texas — Texas State (14)

Non-football playing members of the Sun Belt Conference will include Arkansas-Little Rock (12) and Texas-Arlington (12).

The new league alignment for football also will jump-start the dialogue among football coaches, athletic directors, and conference leadership about including a Sun Belt football championship game into the conference schedule, with larger potential ramifications.

Who is paying these subsidies? Taxpayers.

“This 10-team football league will maximize the Sun Belt’s on-field performance, push us to the top ranking of our four peer conferences, and will give us the best opportunity to soon place a team in one of the  College Football Playoff’s New Year’s Day bowl games,” said Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson. “We will also now have serious conversations with our football coaches and athletics directors about conducting a football championship game.  These discussions will take place this spring and a decision will be made in the very near future.”

The Big Picture, Reconsidered

Asking not to be identified, one source close to Appalachian State said, “This makes a lot of sense for the Sun Belt Conference in terms of league structure. This is not just about football. This is really about the travel demands placed on student athletes in what are typically non-revenue generating sports.  Competing at all of these different venues costs each school a lot of money, whether its basketball, volleyball, field hockey or soccer. With the exception of football, most athletic programs are not paying for themselves.  But then you have the other major cost that is arguably more important: students are missing class time.

How long are the public subsidies of college sports sustainable when states are cutting back or limiting public education expenditures in the classroom?

“Frankly,” he added, “even though it will never happen, all of college athletics should go through a massive re-alignment according to even smaller geographies, with a totally re-vamped playoff system. Out of 230 NCAA Division I public schools in the USA Today study updated for the 2013-14 academic year, only seven schools (Texas, Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma, Penn State, Nebraska and Purdue) received no subsidies from their respective states in the previous year. Only three others (Michigan, Iowa and Kentucky) received less than a million dollars in subsidies.

“Who is paying those subsidies?” he asked, rhetorically. “Taxpayers.  You might be a Duke or a Wake Forest fan, but according to the USA Today study, as a North Carolina taxpayer you are also paying a portion of the state’s subsidies to UNC-Chapel ($9.1 million), NC State ($6.7 million), Appalachian State ($10.3 million), East Carolina ($15.7 million), Western Carolina ($7.6 million), UNC-Greensboro ($11.9 million), North Carolina Central ($7.7 million), North Carolina A&T ($8.4 million), UNC-Wilmington ($8.8 million), UNC-Asheville ($4.6 million) or UNC-Charlotte ($20.6 million).

“How long are these subsidies sustainable,” our source continued asking, “and how long can we rationalize these subsidies when funding for public elementary and secondary education, as well as the community colleges is being compromised?

“Actions taken like the Sun Belt’s decision announced today,” he concluded, “is just a small first step in the bigger, long term picture.”

Editor’s Note: The source information for the USA Study cited by our source can be found by CLICKING HERE.


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