Sun Belt Conference to add four teams

Lucas Aulbach

The Sun Belt Conference announced Wednesday that it will add four new members in the next two seasons to make up for the departures of several key members to Conference USA, but the revolving door of conference realignment may just be getting started for WKU.

The Sun Belt will add current Football Championship Series members Appalachian State and Georgia Southern in all sports as well as independents New Mexico State and Idaho in football only. The four teams will officially join the conference on July 1, 2014.

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said on a conference call Wednesday that the intent of the move was to get the conference back to 12 football-playing members, which would allow for a conference championship game at the end of the season.

A conference title game would add one more game to the top Sun Belt team’s schedule, giving the school a chance to improve its record and give it a better shot to earn the BCS bowl berth given to the top team from outside of the BCS power conferences.

Benson’s assumption that there will be 12 football schools in the Sun Belt in 2014 is contingent upon the fate of WKU.

While WKU is a current member of the Sun Belt, many have speculated that the Toppers could be on the move to Conference USA as early as this spring.

WKU’s fate is probably in the hands of Tulsa, a current C-USA school expected to join the Big East Conference sometime in the coming weeks. When Tulsa bolts for the Big East a spot will open in C-USA which could presumably be filled by WKU.

Athletics director Todd Stewart said Thursday that he and the athletics department are responsible for making the right decision for WKU if an opportunity to join C-USA were to be extended.

“We are continuing to monitor and analyze the landscape,” Stewart said. “We’ll always look at all the options that are there and do what’s best for Western Kentucky, first and foremost.”

Benson said while he has a plan in place in the event WKU leaves, he hopes the moves the conference made Wednesday would be enough to convince WKU to stick around even if a bid to C-USA were to be offered.

“What I’m really hoping is that if Western Kentucky does get an invitation to Conference USA, that what we’ve created today with the additions of Georgia Southern and Appalachian State in creating this East Division, that Western Kentucky may look at the Sun Belt and say we can get anything we want playing out in the Sun Belt,” the commissioner said. “That, to me, would be a statement that the Sun Belt has certainly established itself as a credible conference.”

Stewart stressed that WKU is not in an urgent need to leave the conference, pointing out success within the Sun Belt in the men’s basketball, football, and volleyball programs in the past 12 months.

“We’re able to achieve success based on our program and we’ve been able to do that from the Sun Belt Conference,” he said. “So I think ultimately, we’re the ones that are responsible for our own future.”