Sun Belt adds Texas State, eyes further expansion

Hasani Grayson

Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson announced in a teleconference on Wednesday afternoon that Texas State had accepted an invitation to join the conference, effective July 1, 2013.

Texas State is the second school to confirm its intentions to come to the Sun Belt in the past month. Georgia State announced that it would join the conference April 9.

Texas State, which will be leaving the Western Athletic Conference after just one year, is part of what Benson hopes will be continued expansion for the Sun Belt.

“The additions of Georgia State and Texas State is part of a plan and a strategy the Sun Belt has in place to bring in quality universities to not only allow the Sun Belt to get bigger, but to get better,” Benson said. “We believe strongly that the additions of Georgia State and now Texas State have made the Sun Belt a better conference for the future.”

Texas State, like Georgia State, was already slated to move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Texas State will move up this year as part of the WAC, while Georgia State will move up from the Football Championship Subdivision when it joins the Sun Belt in 2013.

Benson said he “truly believes” that both the Bobcats and Panthers will become top-20 football programs.

One challenge the conference faces in expansion efforts is the potential departure of current members. North Texas and Florida International are both expected to leave and join Conference-USA in 2013.

But Benson said that the move to add new schools wasn’t done just to replace the ones they were expected to lose.

“These two universities are outstanding additions despite, perhaps, the loss of Florida International and North Texas,” he said.

Benson said he hopes that North Texas and FIU will remain but also knows that the likelihood of them staying is slim.

“If we were to lose two current members replaced by Georgia State and Texas State, that gets us back to 10 football universities,” he said. “Our goal would be to get to 12 members to be able to divide into divisions and to create some geographic efficiency with the membership in the west versus the membership in the east.”

The future of the conference, however, is not set in stone, and Benson is excited about the Sun Belt maintaining a presence in the state of Texas even if UNT decides to leave.

“It’s important that we remain in the state of Texas, and Texas State certainly does that regardless of what happens with the University of North Texas,” he said.

Benson also said that Florida is also an important region to consider when looking at conference expansion.

He didn’t say specifically which schools were being targeted but did say getting an in-state conference opponent for Florida Atlantic is a possibility.

Benson said more changes are on the agenda for the Sun Belt. These changes may happen quickly but Benson assured everyone that each potential member will be carefully considered.

“At some point in time we will address our next member,” Benson said, “and even though some of these move fast, it moves with a plan in place, and right now the plan is ongoing.”