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Georgia Southern makes move to Sun Belt official

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POSTED: March 29, 2013 10:41 a.m.

STATESBORO — Georgia Southern will make the move to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Beginning on July 1, 2014, GSU will be a member of the Sun Belt Conference.   
GSU President Brooks Keel, Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson, GSU Athletic Director Tom Kleinlein and GSU student government president Dominique Quarles held a news conference Wednesday to announce the move.
According to Kleinlein, the biggest change will be GSU’s perception.
“From this day forward, we are (a Football Bowl Subdivision) program,” he said. “No more questions about, ‘Do you play Division I sports?’ Yes we do.”    
There will be two six-team football divisions in the Sun Belt. Georgia Southern will play in the Eastern Division with Appalachian State, Georgia State, South Alabama, Troy and Western Kentucky, though reports indicate that Western Kentucky will leave the Sun Belt for Conference USA in the near future.
The Western Division will include Arkansas State, Idaho, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State and Texas State. NMSU and Idaho will join the Sun Belt for football only.   
Football will not be eligible to win the Southern Conference title in 2013 or be eligible for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. GSU will play its announced 2013 SoCon schedule.
GSU head coach Jeff Monken told the team Monday about the upcoming season’s ineligibility.
“There’s an initial shock of, ‘What do you mean we don’t get to play for anything?’ It’s the same reaction I had when I found out,” Monken said. “I had a chance to get over it, and they will, too. I’m sure there’s some disappointment, but what a great opportunity for our football program, to be in this position, to play this last season of an FCS schedule to make a statement about Georgia Southern, and to honor the great teams that have played in the blue and white prior to this season.”
    The Eagles will play a full Sun Belt schedule and be eligible to play in the Sun Belt title game in 2014, but will not be bowl-eligible until 2015.
    There will be two six-team football divisions in the Sun Belt. Georgia Southern will play in the Eastern Division with Appalachian State, Georgia State, South Alabama, Troy and Western Kentucky, though reports indicate that Western Kentucky will leave the Sun Belt for Conference USA in the near future.
    The Western Division will include Arkansas State, Idaho, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State and Texas State. NMSU and Idaho will join the Sun Belt for football only.   
The two-division setup will allow the Sun Belt to have a conference championship football game between the top team from each division. Currently, the Sun Belt and the Big 12 are the only FBS conferences without a title game.
    “Even though Georgia Southern won’t be eligible for a bowl game in 2014,” Benson said, “if Georgia Southern wins the eastern division of the Sun Belt ...”
    “We don’t say ‘if’ around here,” Kleinlein interjected.
    “I have to be a little more neutral than Tom,” Benson said with a laugh. “But what could happen in 2014, if we go to that championship model, the highest-rated team would host. So if you want to set a goal today, the first Saturday in December 2014, the first inaugral Sun Belt championship game could be right here in Paulson Stadium.”
    All other Georgia Southern sports will remain eligible for NCAA tournaments and postseason bids. The Eagles will compete in the SoCon until the end of the 2013-14 season and will remain eligible for the postseason.
    Benson said he expects to see the Eagles contending for titles right away.
    “I look forward to crowning Georgia Southern teams as Sun Belt champions very quickly, and I look forward to following Georgia Southern teams, student-athletes and fans to NCAA
championships and bowl games very quickly,” Benson said.    
Benson said Georgia Southern was the right fit for the Sun Belt geographically, academically and athletically. When he came to the Sun Belt as commissioner a year ago, he was already aware of Georgia Southern and had it in mind as a future member even before the most recent shuffle of programs.
    “Georgia Southern has always been on my radar screen from the time I came to the Sun Belt,” Benson said. “Being an outsider to the Sun Belt, my question was, ‘Why not Georgia Southern?’ ... Even if Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee State didn’t leave back in November, Georgia Southern and App State were on my agenda to make the move to 12 teams.”
        Benson added that GSU will contribute on the football field right away.
    “The Sun Belt just got better, from a football standpoint,” he said, “with the addition of Georgia Southern.”
        The Sun Belt does not offer men’s soccer, so GSU’s team will have to find a new home. Kleinlein said that the team will remain in the SoCon until a new home is found.
    Because the football team will increase its scholarship offerings from 63 to 85, women’s sports will have to be added so GSU can remain compliant with Title IX.
    Kleinlein said GSU soon will add one women’s sport and another within the next two years. Rifle, sand volleyball and golf have been speculated as future women’s offerings.
        Recently, Keel estimated that GSU would need to increase its athletic budget by $4.4 million to fund this move. Some of that revenue will come from a student fee increase of $75 per semester, which was voted in by the students. The fee will be implemented beginning with the fall semester in the 2013-14 academic year.
    The students also voted in a per-semester fee of $25 to expand Paulson Stadium. Kleinlein said he expects construction to begin this summer.
    Kleinlein said GSU would start receiving shared revenue from the Sun Belt in 2014.
    Georgia Southern will be required to pay an exit fee of $600,000 to the Southern Conference.
    Kleinlein expects more revenue and exposure to come from a larger television presence, too.
    “When we can play a game on a Tuesday night or a Thursday night or a Saturday in Paulson Stadium, and we can bring ESPN in here, that’s tremendous exposure,” Kleinlein said, “not only for our university, but it’s tremendous exposure for corporate entities around the communities of Statesboro, Savannah, Jacksonville and Atlanta that want to be a part of it.”

 

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