Mulling a Sun Belt football championship game

The Superdome in New Orleans. (AP)

The Superdome in New Orleans. (AP)

Now that the Sun Belt has 12 teams for football with the addition of Coastal Carolina, will it push to host a championship game in football and when will it happen?

It’s two simple questions with two complicated, layered answers.

The easy answers are yes, there will be a championship game … but I don’t think it will start until 2018.

The complicated answers are there will be championship game, depending upon the NCAA and depending upon the future desires of Idaho and New Mexico State.

To start:

The NCAA will decide in January if conferences need to have 12 teams in order to crown a champion with a title game. There is a push to replace that with a minimum of 10 teams.

If the vote is taken and the 12-team mandate remains, the Sun Belt will most certainly try to extend its agreement with Idaho and New Mexico State as football members. There is a four-year agreement that started last year and is scheduled to be reviewed following this season. If the agreement isn’t extended the conference won’t have 12 teams past the 2017 season.

If the 12-team mandate is replaced with a 10-team mandate, will the Sun Belt extend the agreement with the two associate members? I think they might. Here’s why: If New Mexico State and Idaho are left to fend for themselves, the Sun Belt will still have its 10 teams and can host a title game, but it will also be left exposed should another conference try to poach one of its schools. It took three years to add a 12th school. Who knows how long it would take to get back to 10, especially if Idaho and New Mexico State have already found homes in other conferences. It’s fairly clear that Liberty is a non-starter. Eastern Kentucky, another finalist in this recent Sun Belt expansion, may still be interested, but they may also have moved on. It’s better to have too many than too few.

So, let’s say the NCAA reduces the number of minimum members needed to 10. Why would the Sun Belt wait until 2018 to host a title game when it could have one in the 2016 season? It will have 11 members. It could host a title game. There would likely be plenty of cities interested.

I think they would wait until 2018 for this reason: Coastal Carolina will begin its first season in the Sun Belt in 2017, but won’t be eligible to go to a bowl should it win the conference. It’s a pain Georgia Southern knows all too well.

Why would the Sun Belt start a game in 2016 and then risk having a title game in which one of its members (especially one like the Chanticleers that is strong in football) isn’t eligible to play in the postseason? It would be a huge embarrassment for a league that is taking steps to strengthen its credibility. If the Sun Belt waits until 2018 everyone should be eligible.

Waiting also gives the conference time to learn best practices from the other title games (some of which are poorly attended), secure a host site, possible sponsor and TV/radio/multimedia partners.

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