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Getting to know the Sun Belt Conference


July 08, 2014

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    Last week, Georgia Southern bid farewell to the Southern Conference. The Sun Belt era has begun — so let’s get to know our new conference.
    The Sun Belt Conference has 13 member institutions. Two of those are football-only members — New Mexico State and Idaho — who also joined on July 1 with Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. However, two others do not compete in football (Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas-Arlington).
    Geographically speaking, the Sun Belt is huge compared to the footprint of the SoCon which was primarily contained to the Carolinas. Georgia Southern, Samford and Chattanooga were the only three SoCon members located outside of North and South Carolina until the recent conference shake-up. The Sun Belt spans across eight different states: Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and Idaho. The Sun Belt Conference is headquartered in New Orleans, La.
    The league was founded in 1976, but did not begin sponsoring football until 2001. The conference has a total of seven bowl tie-ins. Last season, the Sun Belt posted a combined win-loss record of 8-1 against Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference and the Mountain West in football. UL Lafayette won its third consecutive New Orleans Bowl, while Arkansas State took home the GoDaddy Bowl trophy for the second straight year.
    UL Lafayette probably had the best year athletically of all Sun Belt members. At one point in the season, Lafayette’s baseball team was a unanimous No. 1 in the nation in the polls and hosted a regional and super-regional, but fell just short of a trip to Omaha after being eliminated by Ole Miss. ULL softball advanced all the way to the Women’s College World Series, their men’s basketball team beat Georgia State in the conference title game to claim the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in March, and Lafayette’s men’s tennis won the conference tournament. Needless to say, it was a pretty good year for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
    Departing member Western Kentucky won the women’s basketball championship. Texas State took home the volleyball title while Georgia State and Troy won men’s and women’s golf, respectively.
    Overall, the level of competition in the Sun Belt is going to be a little more difficult than the SoCon, but I honestly believe Georgia Southern can come in and be competitive in pretty much all sports right away.
    The Sun Belt Conference has already named Georgia Southern as host of three conference championships over the next few years (2014 men’s soccer, 2015 volleyball and 2017 baseball), so it certainly seems Southern has been welcomed with open arms by its new conference. Even as one of its longer-tenured members, Georgia Southern always seemed to lose out to the Carolina bias as a member of the SoCon. But that feeling could just be created by the blue-tinted glasses I’m looking through.
    The Sun Belt has served as a stepping-stone conference for many universities. The seemingly endless realignment of NCAA conference affiliations has definitely affected the Sun Belt over the last decade or so as many universities have been added and many have moved on to other conferences for various reasons.
    Hopefully the realignment shuffle has settled down and the Sun Belt can maintain some membership consistency over the next several years. We will take the next couple of weeks to get to know the other Sun Belt member institutions so we can familiarize ourselves with our competition for the upcoming seasons.

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