Georgia State to become Sun Belt’s 11th football-playing member

Brad Stephens

Karl Benson’s quest for a Sun Belt Conference football championship game is underway.

The new Sun Belt commissioner was at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Monday to formally welcome Georgia State, a former league member, back into the Sun Belt.

The Panthers will begin competing in Sun Belt competition in 2013.

“This announcement is a strong declaration of the Sun Belt’s commitment to getting better,” Benson said on a league teleconference.

Georgia State launched its football program in 2010, playing in the Football Championship Subdivision under former Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky head coach Bill Curry.

The Panthers will move to the Football Bowl Subdivision as a “transitional” member in 2013 before becoming a full-fledged FBS team in 2014.

However, Benson said he would push for Georgia State to be eligible for a football championship in 2013.

The addition of Georgia State to the league, coupled with South Alabama’s move to the FBS, gives the Sun Belt 11 football-playing members.

The league also has one non-football-playing school, Arkansas Little-Rock.

Per FBS rules, a conference must have 12 football-playing schools in order to host a league championship game.

“The addition of Georgia State, I think it’s safe to say, is more than likely just the first of additions that we hope to make in the next 90 to 120 days,” Benson said.

Georgia State, currently a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, is the Sun Belt’s first current member located in the state of Georgia.

Benson said he hopes the addition of Georgia State and other schools will allow the league to return to divisional play in some sports, including basketball.

The league won’t have basketball divisions in the 2012-2013 seasons because of the departure of Denver to the Western Athletic Conference.

He also said he expects the addition of Georgia State to solidify the league’s geographical base, which currently stretches from the Miami metro area (Florida International and Florida Atlantic) to the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area (North Texas).

“That obviously creates some geographic spread,” Benson said, “and we need to use Texas as an anchor on the west side and now Florida and Georgia as anchors on the eastern side and make sure we’re able to build within those two geographical regions.”

Georgia State sponsors 18 total athletic programs, with a women’s sand volleyball program starting in 2013.

The men’s basketball team went 22-12 in 2011-2012, with an RPI of 138. Middle Tennessee State and Denver were the only Sun Belt schools with higher RPI standings.

Todd Stewart, interim athletics director at WKU, said Georgia State “has many positive attributes.”

“We are excited about their addition to the Sun Belt Conference,” Stewart said.