Karl Benson announced yesterday that he will allow his current contract as commissioner of the Sun Belt to lapse in June of next year, allowing himself to “conclude (his) career as a commissioner and in intercollegiate athletics”.
This move isn’t terribly surprising if you look just a little bit closer. Benson is 67 years old now, all the children are now grown and done with college, and perhaps he’s finally feeling like he has left the Sun Belt in a position where it has achieved greatly under his guidance and is ready for someone else to either hold steady or forge ahead.
What does this mean for Benson?
Karl achieved much in his time in the Sun Belt, and he deserves a lot of credit for having had successful tenures as commissioner of three different conferences – the Sun Belt, the WAC and the MAC.
He very nearly turned the WAC into a powerful G5 conference, which I think helps offset some of the former members’ complaints about his work (hi there, La Tech).
He took the instability of 2014’s realignment melee and turned it into an opportunity. As relatively successful as MTSU, UNT, and WKU have been since their departure, the arrivals of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern greatly softened that blow, as has the resurgence of Troy under Neal Brown.”
Events like not showing up to present Arkansas State with their conference championship trophy rubbed some folks the wrong way for obvious reasons, and I personally think Benson could have done more to more aggressively pursue the marketing of the conference (including the negotiations of media rights) but there is no doubt the conference is much better off in 2018 than it was in 2012, and a lot of credit goes to Benson for that.
What does this mean for the conference?
Well, it means they have 10 months to find a replacement, obviously.
I personally want to see someone in charge who is willing to push a little bit more; the Sun Belt is probably as grown as it will become within the current conservative methodology, and I want to see the conference go beyond “probably the third-best G5 conference in a good year.”
To that end, I think that current Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir makes a lot of sense. He’s perhaps a bit too off-the-cuff for some, but I think that’s also more of a comparison to his conference peers than an absolute, and nothing’s saying that it isn’t either a) something he could tone down as commissioner or b) something that would be even more useful in the commissioner role.
Another name that has received some mention is current South Alabama athletic director Joel Erdmann, who is reportedly interesting in moving up a level, as it were. He’s led the Jaguars to four consecutive Bubas Cups, has overseen several successful coaching hires, and has spearheaded not the new football facility and potential new stadium at South.
The conference could also look externally, perhaps pulling from the ranks of a successful FCS program like James Madison or McNeese State.
The Sun Belt has advanced in the past eight years and now a new hire at commissioner will give us a good idea about where they hope to go from here. I have my preference, but we’ll see which way the conference offices want things to procees as this search unfolds.