The Sun Rises on a Brand New Sun Belt

Southern Miss, Marshall, James Madison and Old Dominion Join the Sun Belt

In the winter of 2012, I grew gravely concerned about the Sun Belt. Two of the conference’s meatier members – Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky – had suddenly announced that they were bailing for Conference USA. At the time, the Blue Raiders were a pigskin mini-power battling for the SBC football title with Arkansas State. The Hilltoppers were consistently the Sun Belt’s strongest basketball program, and was increasingly flexing on the gridiron as well. Losing both programs was a blow, especially with G5 conferences looking to consolidate power just as football was exploding as a source of lucrative revenue.

The Sun Belt, then led by Commissioner Karl Benson, took a breath and made what, to me, felt like second-rate decision – dipping into the FCS for fresh bodies (in addition to FBS outcasts Idaho and New Mexico State). FBS football was already bloating, and the last thing I felt we needed was to contribute to the expanding waistline.

Not only did my concerns prove comically needless, but the strategy implemented ten years ago has led to an almost Karmic raid of CUSA. Today, the Sun Belt formerly welcomes Southern Miss, Old Dominion and Marshall into the family – plus James Madison, who brings with it the same immediate potential as Appalachian State and Georgia Southern.

Obviously, Sun Belt baseball is instantly strengthened by recent NCAA Regional host Southern Miss and perennial diamond powerhouse Old Dominion. JMU and Old Dominion deliver a much needed jolt for SBC basketball, and both Marshall and Southern Miss have storied gridiron histories that create compelling, ready-made rivalries. There isn’t a dude in the chamber.

The sun and good fortune are shining on the Sun Belt, and I’m handing out the mea culpas. Who would have guessed that the investment in Georgia State would have paid dividends? You, perhaps, but not me. Who else cringed when the SBC bid adios to logistically inconvenient New Mexico State? I mean, besides me? Who slapped their foreheads in dismay when Texas State struggled to get its FBS shit together? Was I the only one? Who among us pined for an invite to the AAC or (gasp) even one to CUSA as the Sun Belt seemed destined to rank 10th out of 10 FBS conferences? It’s okay to admit it!

Whether by blind luck or wise sagacity, Karl Benson and current commissioner Keith Gill have engineered a masterpiece of conference building. The footprint is both manageable and rife with rivalries. There exists a balance of sports proficiency that transcends football. The media money is good. The trajectory points up without a single sign of dip. Bravo.

2012 Me had absolutely nothing to worry about.