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Football: What could happen to Sun Belt Conference as college football conference landscape shifts

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, August 14, 2021

Power 5 conferences weren’t the only ones bracing for impact when plans for Texas and Oklahoma to leave the Big 12 for the SEC recently were exposed.

Potential trickledown implications could be felt too in Group of Five leagues, including the Sun Belt Conference.

After the Texas/Oklahoma jump was revealed, UL athletic director Bryan Maggard was asked if he thought there was a realistic expectation the Sun Belt could lose one or more teams whenever the latest round of movement is complete.

“Oh, I think anything’s possible, right?” he told The Daily Advertiser. “I think at the podium, so to speak, is the Big 12 Conference.

“What are they going to do? Do they look to stick together and add, and then remain the Big 12 Conference? Do they get partial to par? Do other schools … seek membership in other leagues?”

So many questions. So few answers.

“That all remains to be seen,” Maggard said. “But certainly whatever happens in that space, I think, will dictate, realistically what would happen elsewhere.

“Then from there we just kind of have to wait and see what opportunities exist, either to add teams to the Sun Belt, or, do some teams subtract from the Sun Belt?

“But as a league we’re certainly not talking about either losing members or getting picked apart,” he added. “Our focus is on, ‘Would there be opportunities to strengthen the Sun Belt even more?’ ”

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Keith Gill’s statement

After a meeting of SBC athletic directors and school presidents in late July, the league issued a statement from commissioner Keith Gill saying it remains “committed to … taking actions that will reinforce the positive trajectory of the (conference) as a whole.”

Maggard’s interpretation of Gill’s statement?

UL athletic director Bryan Maggard, left, and Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill, right, are monitor college football landscape developments.

“I just think, at the end of the day, we as a conference … continue to monitor this changing landscape,” he said.

“We know more change is coming. Nobody has a crystal ball to know exactly what’s gonna happen. Same with the Big 12 Conference, or any conferences.

“But … we want to continue to make sure the Sun Belt Conference continues to gain its relevance,” he added. “I think we’ve made good strides in that space.”

The Sun Belt has two teams ranked in the preseason USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll – UL (No. 23) and Coastal Carolina (No. 24).

“We feel like we’re a very strong conference, particularly based on our geographic location,” Maggard said. “We have very talented athletic teams across the board.”

The Sun Belt’s future 

Stretching from Coastal Carolina in the east to Texas State in west, and Appalachian State in the north to UL in the south, the SBC has 10 football playing members spread across seven states.

Two Sun Belt programs are in Louisiana (UL, UL Monroe), two in Alabama (South Alabama, Troy), two in Georgia (Georgia Southern, Georgia State), two in the Carolinas (Coastal Carolina in South Carolina, App State in North Carolina) and one each is in Texas and Arkansas.

With AAC schools including Cincinnati, Memphis, UCF, Houston and SMU all considered candidates for Power 5 promotion, in addition to Boise State of the Mountain West and independent BYU, there could potentially be room for at least one Sun Belt program to move as well.

“I think anything’s on the table, to be honest with you,” Maggard said. “We’re not necessarily talking expansion, but … I don’t think anybody’s saying that would be out of the question.”

Maggard also was asked if contraction is a possibility for the Sun Belt.

“Again, I think everything’s on the table, to be honest with you,” he said. “We’re not talking adding, we’re not talking subtracting. … We are going to want to position ourselves to continue to improve the brand and the overall strength of the Sun Belt.”