Karl Benson’s View of the Sun Belt Conference


So Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson gave his “state of the union” at media day this past Monday, and  there were some interesting highlights in there.

He hammered on the fact that the Sun Belt’s goal as a conference is to reach a New Years Six bowl game, and that they are not even worried about College Football Playoff access until a team pulls a 2017 UCF.

I appreciate this conceptually, as the Sun Belt is just now in a position where their conference champion has a realistic shot at that New Years Six bowl slot, and there’s still work to do in order for the CFP to be within reach. That being said, UCF didn’t get to where they got last season because they or the AAC bode their time while the team and conference improved enough to get them to that (hypothetical) shot.

Benson also mentioned repeatedly how the conference revenue has increased ten-fold in the past four years, which of course glosses over the fact that said revenue had remained flat in recent times. He did, however, point out that the conference revenue roughly doubled through the new deal. I’m still waiting on specifics, but if we assume that the previous deal was $110,000 annually per school in a 14 team conference, that becomes $256,000 per school in a 12 team conference.

He also pointed out that he thinks realignment was in part because there was no revenue in the conference back in 2012-2014. While he doesn’t expect any wave of realignment anytime soon, he also expects that conversation should be different now that the conference has established a value that is both greater and much closer to the likes of Conference USA for its members.

To that end, I spoke with him further about the changes that happened in the last round of realignment.

“We built both sides (of the conference)”, Benson said. “Someone on air was talking about how Texas State hasn’t really contributed much and we’re waiting for them to have that breakout season, but when North Texas, Middle Tennessee and the Floridas” – FAU and FIU – “left and I first met with athletic directors and coaches, the question I asked was ‘how important is it that we stay in Texas?’ It came back quickly that we need to stay in Texas, so those were my marching orders. Once that happens Texas State and Arlington finished the West; two in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. That was done intentionally.”

Benson went on to discuss the other side of that equation, the East division.

“When we built out the east, Georgia State came in first; then Georgia Southern and Appalachian, and Western Kentucky was waffling. The same day we invited Georgia Southern and App State I knew that Western Kentucky was on their way out the door, and do you know who I had teed up to replace WKU? Liberty. But I underestimated the… let’s just say I didn’t get a vote, but they didn’t have the support. The beneficiary of that was Coastal Carolina. If Liberty had come in at that time to replace WKU we would have been set.”

When he says “we would have been set” he means that as a conference they would have been at an even 10 teams for football and, I imagine would not have added New Mexico State and Idaho in pursuit of the 12 teams they still needed to have a conference championship game.

Or perhaps those teams do still join, so that a conference championship game happens in the 2015 season? We’ll never know now, but it’s fun to kick around.

My thanks to commissioner Benson for taking the time to talk with me.

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