Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson this week identified Eastern Kentucky, as expected, and Coastal Carolina as two schools the league at least has had talks with regarding their potential interest in possible future membership in the league.
“I think Eastern Kentucky has been public in declaring their interest in moving up to FBS. I think that Coastal Carolina has not made that public statement,” Benson told The Daily Advertiser in a one-on-one interview. “So has Eastern Kentucky contacted the Sun Belt? Yes. Have we had conversation with Coastal Carolina and others? Yes. That’s about all I can say.”
It’s believed Eastern Kentucky is under consideration for an on-campus visit from Sun Belt-member reps, but it’s unclear how far along Coastal Carolina is in the process.
The Sun Belt currently has 11 members that play football, including football-only New Mexico State and Idaho, and 11 for other sports, including Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas-Arlington, which do not play football.
It is considering adding a 12th member after previously tabling the matter, and during the conference’s annual football Media Day at the Superdome here on Monday, Benson suggested the focus on potential expansion should now be geared less toward football needs and more toward the needs of basketball and other sports so two East/West divisions can be created for travel purposes.
Benson pointed out that with UL partnered with UL Monroe, Texas State partnered with UT Arlington, Arkansas State partnered with UALR, Georgia State partnered with Georgia Southern and Troy partnered with South Alabama, 11th-member Appalachian State, which is located in Boone, North Carolina, lacks a geographic travel partner for basketball and other sports.
Benson declined to publicly address a specific question about the geographic location of any potential new member, however.
Eastern Kentucky, which is located in Richmond, Kentucky, and Coastal Carolina, which is located in Conway, South Carolina, not far from Myrtle Beach, both are more than 250 but less than 275 miles from Appalachian State.
Both are currently FCS programs, which is one level below the FBS level at which Sun Belt programs football — and the same former level as recent Sun Belt call-ups Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.
It’s known that some officials from Sun Belt schools have considered the possibility of inviting New Mexico State as an all-sports member and not just football-only, but that would not address that need to provide Appalachian State a travel partner.
Among other current FCS members, Liberty has not made any discernible progress in securing a membership invitation from the Sun Belt, James Madison has expressed it is not interest in joining the Sun Belt and buzz about Missouri State as a potential member seems to have waned lately.
No early signing
Benson expressed some surprise Monday that an early National Letter-of-Intent signing period for football was not voted in nationally last month, as some expected would happen.
Instead, according to the commissioner, action was delayed was so a new student-athlete welfare study group could examine the pros and cons of such a change.
Other NCAA sports — including basketball, baseball, softball and volleyball — already have a fall early signing period.
Benson indicated he thinks there is “majority support” for one in football too within the Collegiate Commissioner’s Association, but there is some opposition as well.
One more official
According to the Sun Belt, SBC coordinator of football officials Steve Shaw said this week that an extra official will be added to crews working conference football games this season.
That means eight-man crews for all league games now.
“Really, the changes in our game, we need that eighth official,” Shaw said, according to the Sun Belt. “It’s a center judge who will be opposite the referee in the offensive backfield. His first responsibility will be to spot the ball every play. It helps us manage up-tempo and the substitution process. It’s not to go faster or slow things down but to help manage things better.
“With the changing game, the spread offense, now we’ve got plays where we have five receivers out in a route,” Shaw added. “We have three deep officials and two wings and they all have keys. Those guys are all occupied. That left the referee and umpire to handle all the middle. Now we’ll have another guy to give us a triangular look there.”