Formed in 1976 the Sun Belt Conference quickly rose to the greatest heights of collegiate athletics by sending a team to the NCAA Final Four in the league’s first year of existence. Fast forward 36 years and the league again finds itself at the pinnacle of collegiate athletics as a member of the 11-league alliance of the Bowl Championship Series.
Because of its status as a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Sun Belt Conference has a permanent seat on the NCAA’s 18-member Board of Directors. As a result, the conference has a crucial voice on some of the most pressing issues in college athletics and will always have a role in the implementation of any future NCAA legislation and guidelines.
The conference continues to utilize television to grow and promote the league and its member institutions. The Sun Belt Conference signed a new multi-year agreement with ESPN, Inc. in 2012 that results in unprecedented national coverage for the league. Fans of the Sun Belt Conference can look forward to seeing more Sun Belt teams playing on national television on ESPN and ESPN2 and additionally the ESPN deal will result in more coverage on ESPNU. ESPN will continue to televise the conference’s men’s basketball championship game for the 32nd straight season in 2013, marking its longest affiliation with any conference in the country.
The conference’s regional television partnership with Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast (CSS) and Cox Sports Television (CST) enables live telecasts of Sun Belt events to reach millions of households. The addition of volleyball, baseball and softball to the conference’s television package has resulted in more national and regional television exposure for the league than at any time in its history.
Success has been easy to find in recent years as well.
Since the 2007 football season, the Sun Belt Conference ranks fifth out of the 11 FBS conferences in postseason bowl game winning percentage. In fact, the Sun Belt Conference ranks ahead of noted “Big Six” leagues – the ACC, Pac-12 and the Big Ten. Furthermore, the Sun Belt Conference outpaces its non-automatic qualifying BCS partners in the WAC, Conference USA and the MAC.
The world has taken notice of the Sun Belt Conference as well. Proof of that comes as the league now has two automatic tie-ins to postseason bowl games. The R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl agreement with the Sun Belt Conference ensures that a Sun Belt team will play in that bowl game through 2013 (the league has sent a team to that game every year since the game’s inception in 2001). The Sun Belt Conference also recently signed an extension with the GoDaddy.com Bowl, played annually in Mobile, Alabama, that will ensure that a Sun Belt team plays in that bowl game through 2017.
Sun Belt member institutions showed continued progress with the latest release of the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores and the future of the league’s APR scores looks bright as well. In 2011, the Division I Board of Directors voted to move the minimum academic standard for postseason participation from 900 to 930. Additionally, the previous benchmark score of 925 that could result in sanctions will also change to 930. The new postseason eligibility structure will take effect in the 2012-13 academic year, with a two-year implementation window before the benchmark moves from 900 to 930. For access to postseason competition in 2012-13 and 2013-14, teams must achieve a 900 multi-year APR or a 930 average over the most recent two years to be eligible. Fortunately for the Sun Belt, the good news is that 94 percent of current member institutions are already scoring at or above the 930 mark. The most recent APR scores are multi-year rates based on the scores from the 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years.
Prominent Sun Belt alumni include NFL Hall of Fame football player “Mean” Joe Greene (North Texas) former All-Star baseball player Luis Gonzalez (South Alabama), former All-Star baseball player Mike Lowell (2007 MLB World Series MVP, FIU), former member of the United States Senate and House of Representatives John Breaux (Louisiana-Lafayette), country music superstar Tim McGraw (Louisiana-Monroe) and actor Andy Garcia (FIU).
The conference’s first 36 years have also produced numerous individual national champions along with Olympic track medalists including Earl Bell, Tom Hill and Al Joyner (Arkansas State), Hollis Conway (Louisiana-Lafayette), and Tayna Lawrence (FIU). Old Dominion’s Anne Donovan, who received the Naismith Trophy recognizing the nation’s top women’s basketball player in 1983, helped the United States win the Olympic gold medal in 1984 and helped the Lady Monarchs capture the national championship in 1985.