Sun Belt Conference football divisions announced

By Kevin Kelley -

The Sun Belt Conference football divisions were officially announced on Tuesday at the conclusion of the conference’s Spring meetings.

Beginning with the 2018 season, the Sun Belt Conference will split into East and West divisions. Each division will have five teams and is geographically split, with the exception of Troy in the East and South Alabama in the West.

East

Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Troy

West

Arkansas State, South Alabama, Texas State, UL Lafayette, ULM

The division winners will then meet in the Sun Belt Championship Game, which will be played at the home site of the higher ranked team in the College Football Playoff poll.

Last season, Appalachian State and Arkansas State shared the Sun Belt football championship after both finished 7-1 in conference play.

Sun Belt Football Schedules

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Comments (22)

I count only 5 teams in each division. I assume this is only for football. UT Arlington and Arkansas -Little Rock will be playing all other sports.

No, that game will be preserved. Karl Benson (SBC Commissioner) confirmed that everyone will have a cross-division rival that they will play every year.

It hasn’t been confirmed yet but here are the rumored cross-overs:

Appalachian State | Arkansas State
Coastal Carolina | Texas State
Georgia Southern | Louisiana
Georgia State | ULM
Troy | South Alabama

I really don’t see the need for the cross division games outside of the two Alabama schools. Who wanted these ans what is the point?

The NCAA allows 10 team FBS conferences to have a round robin schedule OR divisions…the Sun Belt chose divisions unlike the Big 12 who chose a round robin schedule.

Because divisions were agreed upon, there are some accommodations to make like maintaining the Troy/South Alabama game. Creating cross-division rivals will allow for the Troy/South Alabama game to be maintained annually.

App State was not the only Sun Belt Champion last season. Arkansas State went 7-1 as well for their fifth title in six seasons. Neither team played each other.

Specifically, the FBS changes I am proposing are:

Cincinnati, Connecticut to ACC
Boise State, BYU, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Temple to Big 12
Charlotte, Marshall, Rice, Southern Miss, UAB, UTEP to American
Arkansas State, Eastern Kentucky, Jacksonville State, UL-Lafayette, UL-Monroe, Texas State to C-USA
Central Arkansas, FL Gulf Coast (no football), James Madison, Lamar, Liberty, McNeese, State, UNC-Asheville (no football), Sam Houston State to Sun Belt
Montana, Montana State, Seattle (no football) to MWC
Cleveland State (no football), Fordham’s football program, Richmond’s football program, Robert Morris’ Olympic sports, Southern Illinois, Youngstown State to MAC
Air Force football goes to FBS independence and other sports join Patriot League to be with other service academies

As to how it affects Sun Belt, here are the divisions after realignment:

East:
Appalachian State
Coastal Carolina
Florida Gulf Coast (non-football member)
Georgia Southern
Georgia State
James Madison
Liberty
North Carolina-Asheville (non-football member)

West:
Arkansas-Little Rock (non-football member)
Central Arkansas
Lamar
McNeese State
Sam Houston State
South Alabama
Texas-Arlington (non-football member)
Troy

The divisions can operate as either 8-team basketball divisions or 6-team football divisions.

These would be the Thanksgiving weekend games in the Sun Belt:

Appalachian State-Coastal Carolina
Georgia Southern-Georgia State
James Madison-Liberty

Central Arkansas-McNeese State
Lamar-Sam Houston State
South Alabama-Troy

Each football team would play 9 conference games – 5 division and 4 crossover, skipping one of the geographic pairs listed above every two years so that each crossover conference game occurs 4 times in a 6 year period.

Ummmmkay.
In real, I thought I’ve read UALR is adding football? Since Ark plays almost all games in Fayetteville now, there’s a big stadium doing underused in Little Rock. UALR should name change to U. of Middle Arkansas, or Arkansas Capital U. though. Anyway, that’s a given team 11 for the Sun Belt.

Seems like they could keep New Mexico State in the West and then add another school to the East. Liberty is moving to FBS in 2018, or they could pursue Jacksonville State or another FCS power program in the southeast.

Very poor strategy Jason. The College Football Playoff money is allotted to a maximum of 10 teams…anything over that will water down the payout per team. By dropping New Mexico State and Idaho, the Sun Belt will have exactly 10 teams for football which will allow the maximum payout per team. Conferences such as Conference USA, who have 14 members, will always receive less money per team from the College Football Playoff assuming the Access Bowl isn’t in play.

WHY ON EARTH would the Sun Belt want to call up any more FCS teams?! The brand is becoming established with the core set of schools (Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, Louisiana, Troy) and adding any more lower level teams at this point would only inhibit the growth you are seeing. Liberty has nothing in common with the teams in the Sun Belt and Jacksonville State doesn’t stand a chance with Troy and South Alabama already in the conference. The ONLY teams in FCS that are even close to moving up to FBS are North Dakota State (no intention of moving up) and James Madison (also no intention of moving up).

Kevin, Troy, AL is significantly east of Mobile, AL and South Alabama, so geographically it makes sense. Much easier for Troy to get to Georgia State than USA. All other East division teams are able to take freeways thru Atlanta to Montgomery and down to Troy. USA can use I-10 to head west to Lafayette, or up 49 to Jackson and over to Monroe or up to Jonesboro.

Kevin:

I would suggest the following realignment that would incorporate a merger between C-USA and the Sun Belt since there is already considerable geographic overlap, none of these teams is likely to ever contend for a CFB playoff spot, and would create a championship (for fottball at least), that would give fans at these schools something to really root for. It might also have the added benefit of reducing administrative costs such as travel, givne the geographic overlap I just mentioned.

I also take the liberty of upgrading a couple of the stronger FCS programs to FBS status, especially since the Power Five schools will not longer play them for fear of diluting their strength of schedule (see the Big Ten for example), and they could certainly use the additional revenue to fill those holes; in this case, James Madison and Richmond, who may be more ready than one might think to move up given the offsetting financial rewards, not to mention the fact they already compete against the Power Five schools in other sports such as basketball (look at Coastal Carolina winning the NCAA D1 baseball championship last year for example).

I would also note that a potential C-USA-Sun Belt merger has already been mooted about (I believe a writer at the Biloxi Sun Herald was the first to suggest this) as has the idea of a non-Power Five championship modeled on the current Power Five format, although this would obviously be to the detriment of programs like Boise State, that have show themselves more than capable of competing with the Power Five schools.

Under this scheme, there would be four geographically aligned divisions, consisting of seven programs. Each school would play all of the other teams in its division (six games), one game against a school each of the other three divisions (three games), along with a semi-final and conference championship game (potentially two games). That would leave open an option for at least one outside conference game as well as a bowl game (two to three potential games). If my math is correct, that would leave a potential thirteen to fourteen game schedule, assuming no byes.

So without further adieu, here goes:

Eastern Division: Appalchian State, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, James Madison, Marshall, Old Dominion, Richmond

Central Division: FAU, FIU, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Mercer, UCF, USF

Western Division: Arkansas State, North Texas, Rice, Texas State, Tulane, UTEP, UTSA

Southern Division: Louisiana Tech, South Alabama, Southern MIssissippi, Troy, UAB, UL Lafayette, UL Monroe

While I realize this is not perfect (for example, Tulane should be realigned with its fellow insitutions in Louisiana), I think better reflects the current competitive environment in college football today along with the possibility of reducing costs at the same time.