Change of scenery for Sun Belt
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 19:01
The Arkansas State University football team isn’t a stranger to change. The Red Wolves have endured the task of having four different head coaches in four years and while winning back-to back Sun Belt Conference championships.
Beginning with the 2013-2014 football season, the school not only has to adapt to a new coach, but also to new conference opponents.
On Jan. 22, Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Karl Benson announced Florida Atlantic University and Middle Tennessee State would be leaving the Sun Belt Conference for Conference USA, effective June 30, 2013.
It had been announced in November that the two teams would leave in 2014, but the two universities paid a reduced early exit fee of $700,000, allowing them to leave the SBC this year.
As a result of the early exit, ASU was left with one opening in its 12 game schedule for the upcoming season. The gap was filled when the athletic department announced it had closed a deal with the University of Missouri for the SEC for a home-and-home series.
ASU will travel to Columbus, Mo. on Sept. 28 to play Missouri for the first time since playing the Tigers at Arrowhead Stadium in 2005.
The addition of Missouri gives the Red Wolves five non-conference games for 2013, including visits to Auburn on Sept. 7 and Memphis on Sept. 21. ASU will host SWAC member Arkansas-Pine Bluff for the season opener on Aug. 31 and WAC member Idaho on Oct. 12.
It also was announced in 2012 that the University of North Texas and Florida International University would also leave for Conference USA before the start of the 2013 season.
The conference has already replaced North Texas and FIU with Georgia State University and Texas State University. They also added the University of Texas-Arlington last May to balance out the number of schools without football programs within the conference.
This leaves the Sun Belt Conference with eight football programs for the 2013 season: Arkansas State, Georgia State, South Alabama, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana-Lafayette, Texas State, Troy and Western Kentucky.
“Each team will lose a conference game and there will be an imbalance of conference home and away games for each team,” Benson said. “But it’s only for one season and it shouldn’t really be a problem.”
Benson expressed there are many teams interested in joining the conference at this time and they are hoping to announce two universities within the next 60 to 90 days to add for the 2014 season.
“We’ve made it clear that we need to replace Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee,” Benson said.
But the commissioner stressed they don’t want to rush the process by adding just any school and they want to be “very selective” with their choices.
“We want to make sure we get two of the very best out there and that they’ll fit geographically. We really want two quality teams and we believe this conference has a bright future,” Benson said.
Since the Sun Belt Conference merged with the American South Conference in 1991, there have been a total of 13 universities that have come and gone as members, including the four this year. Though this is over a span of 22 years, conferences like the SEC and the Big 10 have, for the most part, remained the same since then.
ASU is one of five original universities that have remained in the conference since the merger, including the University of South Alabama, Western Kentucky, Arkansas-Little Rock and University of Louisiana-Lafayette.
Since the SBC started sponsoring football in 2001, the Red Wolves will now be one of the three original football programs remaining in the conference alongside South Alabama and Louisiana-Monroe.
ASU will be joined by ULL and ULM as the longest serving members of the Sun Belt Conference.