COLUMN: Sun Belt product grows even weaker

Brad Stephens

Karl Benson preached quality over quantity when he was named Sun Belt Conference commissioner in February.

He spoke of “greater bowl opportunities, with greater TV opportunities, with greater revenue opportunities” for his new league.

Benson said the Sun Belt was making a “message” that the league “will be and could be an attractive landing spot for any current Football Bowl Subdivision member in the footprint.”

It doesn’t appear the FBS schools within said footprint received Benson’s message.

The Sun Belt on Wednesday added Texas State. The Bobcats will join Georgia State as new league members in 2013.

Those two schools help replace Florida International, which has gone to Conference-USA, and North Texas, which will likely make the same move, giving the Sun Belt 10 football-playing members.

Georgia State brings a football program about to start just its third season and a men’s basketball team that’s been to two NCAA Tournaments.

Texas State brings a football program yet to play a down as an FBS member and a men’s basketball team that’s also been to just two NCAA Tournaments, the last of which came in 1997.

Both of these schools will dilute men’s basketball, something WKU fans are already sick of seeing from their team’s conference.

Neither Georgia State nor Texas State will really help football either, other than marching the league closer to the 12-football playing-school milestone needed for a Sun Belt championship game.

Both the Panthers and Bobcats look like candidates for guarantee game fodder and 3-5 league records. They’re not the kind of teams that will raise the league’s mediocre football reputation.

Expect more of the same from other teams that join the league.

Established FBS schools within the league’s footprint, like Louisiana Tech, are joining the C-USA instead of the Sun Belt.

Standing two teams short of a potential conference championship, Benson and Co., have two real options.

The Sun Belt could scrape Idaho and New Mexico State from the dying Western Athletic Conference and add them as football-only members, just as it did in 2001.

That would allow the league to meet both minimum requirements for a conference championship and, with the reported addition of non-football-playing Texas-Arlington, keep two six-team divisions.

But who of you WKU fans really want to make long road trips to watch the Toppers play lightweights like Idaho and New Mexico State?

The Sun Belt’s other choice would be adding two more FCS schools as full members, requiring an immediate transition to the FBS.

Plenty of names have been tossed around as to who those teams would be, with FCS powers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern standing out as popular candidates.

But adding two brand new FBS members to a league already trying to break Texas State and Georgia State into the FBS will make for some brutal football.

The greater bowl, TV and revenue opportunities Benson promised likely won’t come with any real significance from either option.

The appearance of the Sun Belt as an attractive FBS landing spot won’t be helped either.

Instead, the Sun Belt sits as a sort of purgatory football conference, able to partake in bowl games if given the chance, but without the prestige to play in a bowl game that means nothing.

As for the other high-revenue sport, men’s basketball, the Sun Belt’s reputation as one-bid league has been further cemented.

In the conference realignment carousel, the Sun Belt is a clear loser.

Benson has tried to keep up with the carousel by adding teams to the league.

But quality hasn’t been gained in the process.