Make the Sun Belt Too Big to Fail

Why “Expansion” Should Be Atop the Agenda for Sun Belt Spring Meetings

The Sun Belt meets with itself this week, presumably to talk matters of pressing concern to the conference. You don’t have to be named “Sherlock” to guess what’s on the agenda: broadcast deals, strategic scheduling, bowl tie-ins and perhaps subtle suggestions to Texas State to stop raiding Incarnate Word for football talent, I dunno. However, one topic should be atop the agenda, scrawled in Sharpie and underlined with a glitter pen: EXPANSION.

Yeah, the Sun Belt already expanded. (There was a press release about it.) Marshall, Southern Miss, James Madison and (uh, wait…let me think) Old Dominion joined last season, and it was a smashing success. The conference has swelled to fourteen programs and as one result has added men’s soccer and beach volleyball. Never has the Sun Belt been a more complete and relevant conference, all thanks too loosening the belt a few notches.

So why expand any farther? If anything, we should be bouncing ULM, am I right? Listen, not only should the Sun Belt retain the Warhawks, the SBC should be recruiting more programs while the plasma is hot. It’s not as though the Sun Belt would grow through its own free will. Larger forces are at play here.

Even as the influencers of the Sun Belt converge upon New Orleans, Power Five conferences are meeting amongst themselves, wringing their manicured hands as two of its members cannibalize the rest of of the caucus for marketable assets. According to Sports Illustrated, San Diego State is practically a PAC12 member already, with SMU soon to follow. The BIG12, feeling strangely cocky even after losing Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC, seem confident enough to lure PAC12 programs to its fold, which means even more plundering of G5 conferences – unless somebody agrees to vanish. (With bellringers UCLA and UCS leaving for the Big 10, the polite thing to do would be for the PAC12 to merge with the Mountain West, but nobody is polite anymore).

The point is, with two wealthy conferences becoming dominate in the college sports community, there isn’t enough bandwidth for eight more. Only the strong will survive, and big is strong.

At fourteen programs, the Sun Belt looms large – larger than any G5 conference save the American, also with fourteen. Not big enough! With Clemson and Florida State (possibly) itching the join the SEC, “mega conference” is the future of college sports. This is no time to think small. This is a time to grow. This is a time to be TOO BIG TO FAIL.

So who does the Sun Belt bring in? The Big 10 (and the desperation of the the PAC12) has shown us that reasonable geographical footprints are no longer a serious consideration. However, the strength of the Sun Belt is geographic rivalry, a formula that should remain untouched. That means it’s time to take a cue from our more-monied sibling and start poaching at will and without mercy – namely from CUSA, which was weakened by realignment and not made any stronger with its FCS additions.

Grab a shopping cart, Sun Belt, and put WKU, Middle Tennessee, and Louisiana Tech in the basket. They’re not saying it, but I suspect they’re interested. But why stop there? Go ahead and add (rolls eyes) UTEP and (grits teeth) Liberty, too. And just for fun, let’s grab Army – they love playing the Sun Belt.

That’s a 20 member conference and we didn’t even have to re-invite New Mexico State. A conference that size could not only survive more reckless P5 attrition, but could also thrive in a “Hey, Let’s Just Play With Ourselves” mode of scheduling the SEC is so desperate to implement.

The Sun Belt can either go big, or just go. I prefer the former.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post had Rice in the CUSA. Rice has been poached by the American. All those responsible for this egregious error have been forced to watch 40 hours of Arkansas State baseball.

IMAGE: Something I cobbled together don’t get excited