Changes coming to the Sun Belt

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Robert George

There is a pair of major changes coming to the Sun Belt Conference over the next few years as it continues to develop as a perennial power in the national athletic landscape.

Coastal Carolina joins the Sun Belt

The most immediate change is the addition of Coastal Carolina University (CCU) to all sports this fall, with the exception of football. The Chanticleers officially made the move on July 1, one day after their baseball team won the College World Series (CWS), and is now the 12th member of the Sun Belt. 

The CCU football program will undergo a transition equivalent to what Georgia Southern did in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. They will compete in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) one more season before playing a full Sun Belt schedule in the 2017-2018 season. However, they won’t be eligible to play in the postseason. After that season, they’ll be able to compete for a bowl berth. The program has been solid of late, with a 48-17 record in the last five seasons. 

The move will give the Sun Belt 10 football-playing members following the 2017 season once New Mexico State and Idaho depart. The Sun Belt is unlikely to add any more football-playing teams anytime soon. 

“Ten is the right number (of football teams) for the Sun Belt,” Karl Benson, Sun Belt Commissioner, said. “It now allows us to shrink our boundaries and maximize the geography.”

The Chanticleers’ baseball team captured the school’s first national championship in any sport on June 30, when they defeated Arizona University in the CWS. CCU competes in 16 collegiate sports, including women’s lacrosse and beach volleyball. 

The Chanticleers have traditionally been successful in baseball, women’s golf, softball, men and women’s tennis, volleyball and women’s soccer. They’re leaving the Big South Conference, where they had been a member since 1983.

Conference Championship game coming to football

The Sun Belt will hold its inaugural Conference Championship game in the 2018 season. They are the final FBS conference to add a championship game to its schedule. 

While factors like game location and the method of choosing the participants have yet to be determined, the addition of the game is a logical one, according to Benson.

“When the NCAA Division I Council passed new rules on championship games, we knew our 10-team lineup for 2018 was going to be ready to move forward with a vote,” Benson said in a statement. 

Holding a championship game could help the conference potentially get a team to the College Football Playoff. While it would probably take an undefeated team to crack the top four, having a single, undisputed champion may be enough to get that team into the coveted playoff, or into a prestigious New Year’s day bowl game. 

Benson said in a statement, “This championship will be a first-class experience – and we look forward to it being a launching-pad for a team to reach the College Football Playoff’s ‘New Year’s Six’ bowl games.”