Sun Belt Conference
|Sun Belt Conference|
|Region||Southern United States|
|Headquarters||New Orleans, Louisiana|
|Commissioner||Keith Gill (since 2019)|
The Sun Belt Conference (SBC) is a collegiate athletic conference that has been affiliated with the NCAA's Division I since 1976. Originally a non-football conference, the Sun Belt began sponsoring football in 2001. Its football teams participate in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). The 12 member institutions of the Sun Belt are distributed primarily across the southern United States.
The Sun Belt Conference was founded on August 4, 1976 with the University of New Orleans, the University of South Alabama, Georgia State University, Jacksonville University, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and the University of South Florida. Over the next ten years the conference would add Western Kentucky University, Old Dominion University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Virginia Commonwealth University. New Orleans was forced out of the league in 1980 due to its small on-campus gymnasium that the Conference did not deem suitable for Conference competition. UNO competed as an independent before joining the newly formed American South Conference in 1987.
After the 1990–91 basketball season, all members of the Sun Belt, except Western Kentucky, South Alabama, and Jacksonville, departed for other conferences. The Sun Belt, including incoming member in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, then merged with the American South Conference, made up of Arkansas State University, Louisiana Tech University, the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette), the University of Texas–Pan American (now merged into the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley), New Orleans (re-joined), Lamar University, and the University of Central Florida. Although the American South was the larger conference, the merged league retained the Sun Belt name. In 1991, the league first began to explore the idea of sponsoring football.
Central Florida left the league following the 1991–92 academic year due to a dispute over television rights, among other reasons. Lamar, Texas–Pan American, and Jacksonville departed at the end of the 1997–98 academic year. Florida International University joined the Sun Belt in 1998, and the University of Denver was added in 1999. Louisiana Tech departed after the 2000–01 academic year.
The conference did not sponsor football until 2001, when the league added former Big West Conference members New Mexico State University and the University of North Texas and former Ohio Valley Conference member (an FBS Independent on football) Middle Tennessee State University as full members (all three of them joined a year earlier for all sports in the 2000-01 school year) and added FBS Independent University of Louisiana at Monroe and Big West member University of Idaho as "football-only" members. These new members gave the Sun Belt seven football playing members in their first season, as Arkansas State and Louisiana–Lafayette were already full members which sponsored football. Another Big West school, Utah State University, was added as a "football-only" member in 2003, then departed in 2005 with Idaho and New Mexico State for the Western Athletic Conference (WAC).
In 2004, Troy University became a "football-only" member until the Trojans joined the conference in all sports, effectively in the 2005-06 academic year. In 2005, Florida Atlantic became a "football-only" member until the Owls joined the conference in all sports, effectively in the 2006-07 academic year. In 2006, Louisiana–Monroe joined the conference as an all-sports full member when the Warhawks left their former home, the Southland Conference.
On November 11, 2009, New Orleans announced it was investigating a move from Division I to the NCAA's Division III. In order to maintain athletic scholarships, UNO instead opted for entry into Division II. On April 20, 2011, UNO officially received transition approval from the NCAA Division II Membership Committee. (UNO later decided to remain in Division I, and joined the Southland Conference in 2013.)
Early 2010s realignment
On April 9, 2012, Georgia State, one of the founding members of the Sun Belt Conference, announced that it would be returning to the conference as a full member in 2013. As part of the move, the football program began a transition from FCS to FBS in the 2012 season; it played a full Sun Belt schedule as a "transitional" FBS member in 2013, and became a full FBS member, with bowl eligibility, in 2014. On May 2, 2012, Texas State University announced it would leave the WAC after just one year and join the Sun Belt in July 2013 to begin play for the 2013–14 academic year. At the press conference to announce Texas State's addition, Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson also hinted that more changes could be on the way for the conference. On May 25, 2012, the conference announced that the University of Texas at Arlington (a non-football member) had accepted an invitation to join the conference and would become a full member by 2013.
On May 4, 2012, FIU and North Texas announced that they would be leaving the Sun Belt for Conference USA on July 1, 2013 as part of a Conference USA expansion effort involving four other schools. On November 29, 2012, Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee State announced that they would also leave the Sun Belt for Conference USA. The move for Florida Atlantic and MTSU was originally scheduled to take place in 2014, however, the two schools announced on January 28, 2013 that they would leave for Conference USA a year early, departing on July 1, 2013 with FIU and North Texas. Western Kentucky also accepted an invitation to join Conference USA on April 1, 2013, and departed from the Sun Belt on July 1, 2014.
These moves depleted the Sun Belt and made the need to expand their membership more urgent than ever, as the Sun Belt was left with ten full members and only eight members that sponsor football (the minimum number required for a conference to sponsor football at the FBS level) for the 2013 season. Appalachian State University accepted an invitation on March 27, 2013 to join the Sun Belt effective July 1, 2014. Georgia Southern University accepted a similar Sun Belt invitation at the same time as Appalachian State. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern both joined for all sports from the Southern Conference on July 1, 2014. Both schools had been very successful within the Football Championship Subdivision, combining to win nine national championships since 1985. They upgraded to the Football Bowl Subdivision, and were eligible for Sun Belt conference championships in 2014, but were not postseason-eligible in football until 2015.
The Sun Belt also granted football-only invites to Idaho and New Mexico State on March 28, 2013. Idaho and New Mexico State were both former Sun Belt members (Idaho for football only, New Mexico State for all sports) from 2001 to 2005. The large number of defections from the WAC forced that conference to drop football after the 2012 season. Idaho and New Mexico State were the only remaining WAC members that sponsored football, and competed as FBS independents for the 2013 season before competing in the Sun Belt in 2014. Idaho is located by far the farthest away from the other Sun Belt conference members, but it was rejected by the Mountain West Conference, leaving it with no other choice.
On September 1, 2015, Coastal Carolina University accepted an invitation to join the Sun Belt Conference. The university joined in all sports except for football starting July 1, 2016, with football joining in 2017.
The conference announced on March 1, 2016, that the affiliation agreement with Idaho and New Mexico State would not be extended past the 2017 season.
The conference announced that beginning in 2018, the conference (10 teams) will be divided into two divisions for football: East: Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, and Troy; West: Arkansas State, Louisiana, Louisiana–Monroe, South Alabama, and Texas State. The winner of each division will meet in the Sun Belt Championship game.
- Louisiana–Monroe — football was an affiliate member from 2001 to 2006
- Troy — football was an affiliate member in 2004–05.
|University of Central Arkansas||Conway, Arkansas||1907||2019||10,870||Bears[a]||soccer (M)||Southland|
- Central Arkansas uses "Bears" for only men's teams, with women's teams known as "Sugar Bears". Men's soccer is the school's only Sun Belt sport.
- Florida Atlantic — football was an affiliate member in 2005–06.
- Texas–Pan American — Merged into UTRGV in 2015; the merged school inherited UTPA's athletic program, with the new nickname of Vaqueros, and membership in the Western Athletic Conference.
- New Mexico State — was a full member from 2000 to 2005.
Former affiliate members
Sun Belt Sport[a]
|Hartwick College||Oneonta, New York||1797||Hawks||2014||2018||soccer (M)||Empire 8|
|Howard University||Washington, D.C.||1867||Bison||2014||2021[b]||soccer (M)||Northeast (from July 2021)|
|University of Idaho||Moscow, Idaho||1889||Vandals||2001;
|New Jersey Institute of Technology||Newark, New Jersey||1881||Highlanders||2014||2016||soccer (M)||America East|
|New Mexico State University||Las Cruces, New Mexico||1888||Aggies||2014||2018||football||FBS independent|
|Utah State University||Logan, Utah||1888||Aggies||2003||2005||football||Mountain West|
- In all cases except those of Howard and New Mexico State, this matches the school's primary conference affiliation. Howard is a full member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, including FCS football. New Mexico State is a full member of the Western Athletic Conference, which will add FCS football in fall 2021; however, NMSU will continue to play as an FBS independent.
- Due to COVID-19 concerns, Howard chose not to play soccer in the 2020–21 school year, although the Sun Belt chose to hold a men's soccer season, with the four remaining men's soccer members playing a split fall–spring schedule to accommodate the NCAA's move of the Division I tournament from fall 2020 to spring 2021.
Full members (all sports) Full members (non-football) Associate members (football-only) Associate members (other)
- Vic Bubas (1976–1990)
- Jim Lessig (1990–1991)
- Craig Thompson (1991–1998)
- Wright Waters (1999–2012)
- Karl Benson (2012–2019)
- Keith Gill (2019–present)
In addition to the five Sun Belt commissioners, three future league leaders served on the Sun Belt staff prior to becoming conference commissioners, including Doug Elgin (Missouri Valley), John Iamarino (Northeast, Southern) and Tom Burnett (Southland).
On October 12, 2011, ESPN reported that Wright Waters would retire, effective July 1, 2012. On February 15, 2012, Karl Benson was hired as the new commissioner of the Sun Belt, after having been the commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference for 17 years. Waters would later move his departure date to March 15, allowing Benson to take over at that time.
Keith Gill was named the commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference on March 18, 2019.    
The Sun Belt Conference sponsors championship competition in nine men's and nine women's NCAA sanctioned sports.
|Track & Field Indoor|
|Track & Field Outdoor|
Men's sponsored sports by school
Member-by-member sponsorship of the nine men's SBC sports for the 2019–20 academic year.
Men's varsity sports not sponsored by the Sun Belt Conference which are played by Sun Belt schools:
Women's sponsored sports by school
Member-by-member sponsorship of the nine women's SBC sports for the 2019–20 academic year.
Women's varsity sports not sponsored by the Sun Belt Conference which are played by Sun Belt schools:
"RS" is regular season, "T" is tournament. Championships from the previous academic year are flagged with the calendar year in which the most recent season or tournament ended.
Current Sun Belt champions
No current Sun Belt member has won an NCAA Division I team championship while a member of the conference. Four current members have won NCAA Division I team championships prior to joining the conference; Coastal Carolina won its only D-I national title on the day before it officially joined the Sun Belt.
|Football (Division I-AA/FCS)||1985 • 1986 • 1989 • 1990 • 1999 • 2000|
|Football (Division I-AA/FCS)||2005 • 2006 • 2007|
|Football (Division I-AA/FCS)||1987|
|West Division||East Division|
|Arkansas State||Appalachian State|
|South Alabama||Georgia State|
The Sun Belt first began sponsoring football in 2001. It originally consisted of seven football playing schools, three of which are still members of the conference. Up until 2009, the conference only had a contract with one bowl, the New Orleans Bowl. Following the Sun Belt's improved football success and geographical membership changes, other bowls began to sign contracts with the Sun Belt Conference. As of November 2019[update], the conference has six bowl game tie-ins.
Throughout the years, the conference has experienced flux in membership changes, similar to many other FBS conferences. The conference announced that beginning in 2018, the conference (10 teams after the departure of Idaho and New Mexico State) will be divided into two divisions for football: East: Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, and Troy; West: Arkansas State, Louisiana, Louisiana–Monroe, South Alabama, and Texas State. The winner of each division will meet in the Sun Belt Championship game.
|Appalachian State||1928||636–340–28||.647||6||6–0||22||Shawn Clark|
|Arkansas State||1911||484–497–37||.494||8||3–5||14||Butch Jones|
|Coastal Carolina||2003||138–77||.642||1||0–1||9||Jamey Chadwell|
|Georgia Southern||1924||338–150–1||.692||4||3–1||11||Chad Lunsford|
|Georgia State||2010||39–86||.312||3||2–1||0||Shawn Elliott|
|South Alabama||2009||60–73||.451||2||0–2||0||Kane Wommack|
|Texas State||1904||512–468–26||.522||0||0–0||12||Jake Spavital|
Sun Belt champions
Starting in the 2018 NCAA Division I FBS Season, the Sun Belt Conference held a football championship game.
|2001||Middle Tennessee State
|2006||Middle Tennessee State
- Louisiana–Lafayette vacated 2013 shared Sun Belt Conference co-championship due to major NCAA violations.
- The 2020 championship game was canceled due to COVID-19 issues; the divisional champions were declared league co-champions.
As of the 2019–20 NCAA football bowl games, the Sun Belt Conference has tie-ins with the following bowl games:
- Conference play
|Appalachian State||Georgia Southern||Deeper Than Hate||—||34
|Louisiana||Louisiana–Monroe||Battle on the Bayou||Wooden Boot||54
|Georgia State||Georgia Southern||Modern Day Hate||—||7
|South Alabama||Troy||Battle for the Belt||Belt||8
- Non-conference play
|Arkansas State||Memphis||Paint Bucket Bowl||—||59
|Louisiana||McNeese State||—||Cajun Crown||37
|Louisiana||Southeastern Louisiana||—||Cypress Mug||38
|Texas State||Nicholls State||Battle for the Paddle||Paddle||31
|Troy||Middle Tennessee||Battle for the Palladium||Palladium||20
|Appalachian State||Western Carolina||Battle for the Old Mountain Jug||Old Mountain Jug||78
Since the 2018–19 season, the Sun Belt Conference Men's and Women's Basketball Tournaments, held in early March, have involved only 10 of the conference's 12 teams, and have been bracketed in a semi-stepladder format. The bottom four seeds play in the first round; the 5 and 6 seeds receive byes to the second round, the 3 and 4 seeds to the quarterfinals, and the top two seeds to the semifinals. The semifinals and finals are held in New Orleans; the 2019 men's and women's events were at Lakefront Arena, and from 2020 will be at Smoothie King Center. Winners of the tournaments earn automatic bids to their respective NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament.
The Sun Belt Conference has sponsored an annual baseball tournament to determine the conference winner since 1978. South Alabama has won the most championships, at 12.
Two of the Sun Belt's member schools, Georgia State and UT Arlington are doctorate-granting universities with "very high research activity," the highest classification given by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
|Appalachian State University||Public (UNC)||Master's (Larger)||$99,593,000||9 (Regional: South)||315|
|Arkansas State University||Public (ASU System)||R2 Doctoral/Research (Higher)||$66,217,000||68 (Regional: South)||N/A[d 1]|
|Coastal Carolina University||Public||Master's (Larger)||$39,432,000||52 (Regional: South)||N/A[d 2]|
|Georgia Southern University||Public (USG System)||R2 Doctoral/Research (Higher)||$50,999,000||RNP (National)||560|
|Georgia State University||Public (USG System)||R1 Doctoral/Research (Highest)||$155,303,000||187 (National)||530|
|University of Arkansas at Little Rock||Public (UA System)||R3 Doctoral/Research (Moderate)||$70,080,000||RNP (National)||608|
|University of Louisiana at Lafayette||Public (UL System)||R2 Doctoral/Research (Higher)||$178,300,000||RNP (National)||529|
|University of Louisiana at Monroe||Public (UL System)||R3 Doctoral/Research (Moderate)||$23,158,000||RNP (National)||N/A[d 3]|
|University of South Alabama||Public||R2 Doctoral/Research (Higher)||$555,735,000||RNP (National)||616|
|Texas State University||Public (TSU System)||R2 Doctoral/Research (Higher)||$186,676,000||RNP (National)||506|
|University of Texas at Arlington||Public (UT System)||R1 Doctoral/Research (Highest)||$155,277,000||221 (National)||558|
|Troy University||Public (TU System)||Master's (Larger)||$104,409,000||69 (Regional: South)||640|
- Arkansas State is not ranked in the 2017 Forbes America's Best 650 Colleges rankings.
- Coastal Carolina is not ranked in the 2017 Forbes America's Best 650 Colleges rankings.
- Louisiana-Monroe is not ranked in the 2017 Forbes America's Best 650 Colleges rankings.
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PERMANENT SEATING FOR 1,000 plus grass seating for thousands more
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Arena: GSU Sports Arena (3,854)
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