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Thursday, February 16, 2012
WAC commish Benson jumps to Sun Belt

By Andrea Adelson

Embattled WAC commissioner Karl Benson has jumped to lead the Sun Belt, moving away from a conference that has been decimated by expansion in the past year.

Interestingly enough, one of the first items on the agenda for his new conference: expansion. The Sun Belt currently has 10 football-playing schools, with South Alabama set to join in 2013. Benson noted Thursday that a committee will be formed to evaluate current and future membership.

"Without getting specific in terms of numbers, I think that there’s an advantage to getting to at least 12 to take advantage of additional postseason opportunities," Benson said in a conference call. "The Sun Belt footprint also provides a pool of possible numbers that are already in that footprint: current FBS members, as well as FCS members that have indicated interest in perhaps in moving to FBS. Again it will be a very important piece in the coming months."

One school squarely in that footprint: Louisiana Tech, a member of the league Benson is leaving. Benson declined to talk specifics about schools, but it would make total sense for the Sun Belt to go after the Bulldogs.

“Right now I’m focusing on the 10 football-playing members of the Sun Belt along with the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and focusing on how to make the Sun Belt a stronger conference," Benson said. "It’s not the first time a commissioner moving from one conference to the other. There may be sensitivity and perhaps some awkwardness. I think everyone understands that once you change positions that you are now responsible and obligated to that conference. I will certainly do that with the Sun Belt."

But one wrench that could be thrown into that plan is the future configuration of the future Mountain West-Conference USA association. That group has indicated it would like to grow to potentially 24 teams. Sun Belt schools like North Texas and FIU, for example, would retain footholds in two strong base states.

Benson addressed why it is attractive for teams current in the Sun Belt to remain in the Sun Belt.

"The Sun Belt has established itself as a credible, as a bona fide Division I BCS conference," he said. "I think that we hope to be able to demonstrate in the coming weeks that the future is bright for the Sun Belt -- that in light of the changes that have occurred in Conference USA, in the Mountain West, in the WAC, that the Sun Belt position in terms of the hierarchy of the so-called non-AQ conferences has increased tremendously, and the opportunity for the Sun Belt to succeed in a manner that will provide the current membership with greater bowl opportunities, with greater television opportunities, with greater revenue opportunities that we will be able to demonstrate that the Sun Belt is on par with any other of the non-BCS conferences.”