Jeff Reed: Conference Shakeup Continues for Red Wolves

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If it seems like just last week we were addressing the future of Arkansas State University Red Wolves and conference affiliation, we were.

Well it is that time again.

This week another shoe fell in the ongoing saga of college football realignment. We call it college football realignment because that is what driving this train.

Needing someone to fill the void left by the departure of Tulsa to the unnamed conference that was once part of the Big East, Conference-USA’s latest raid on the Sun Belt Conference resulted in Western Kentucky’s moving on.

Some of the Red Wolves fan base were claiming the sky was falling – again. Rejection is not a pleasant feeling.

This shuffling of the Sun Belt has happened four times previously – Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, Florida International and North Texas. Those moves were not taken well by some then, either. But it is what it is and it is time to make the best of the situation.

Arkansas State’s situation is it is a member of the Sun Belt Conference. And will be for all of the 2013-14 season. If something else comes along, and if it did, it would likely be C-USA, since schools don’t jump too far up the ladder these days.

So what is next for the Red Wolves?

You make the best of your situation.

Arkansas State Athletic Director Terry Mohajir points out that the only difference between the Sun Belt and C-USA is money distribution, “and their TV contract expires in two years and they will soon run out of Memphis’ Final Four money.”

The truth is, on the field, you take the additions to the Sun Belt – certainly Appalachian State and Georgia Southern. They are in better shape than three (the Floridans and North Texas) of the defections. New Sun Belt members, New Mexico State and Idaho, need a little work, but the schools leaving the conference are not exactly at the top of the standings.

Conference-USA is not what it once was. All of its star appeal is leaving and being replaced by second-tier Sun Belt teams. Still C-USA has a better brand, or national image, than the Sun Belt.

Mohajir points out that in 2014 all of the non-automatic-qualifying-conference schools – the re-named Big East football, Mountain West, Mid-American, C-USA and Sun Belt – will be lumped together and ranked at the end of each season. One school will have a shot at a BCS berth and money will be distributed based on the league rankings. If that process had been in place in 2012, the Sun Belt would have been ranked third ahead of CUSA and the MAC.

“We are all pretty equal here,” Mohajir said. “Once you get past the the five AQ conferences, we are all basically the same. The only difference is TV contracts. It comes down to TV revenue and its distribution.”

There are those who believe Boise State (and we have all heard how Arkansas State wants to be the Boise State of the South) would not be where it is now if it had not first dominated the Big West Conference and then the Western Athletic Conference. The Broncs dominated their league first, then started knocking off AQ schools along the way.

The Red Wolves could be presented with same opportunity in the Sun Belt. The past two seasons have laid a strong foundation. Now it is time to build.

And if you listen to Mohajir, who admits he is a dreamer, he is thinking bigger than just a perceived one-step jump if and when ASU does move.

Nothing is certain. And you never say never.

Our friends at The Den have been analyzing Sun Belt Conference realignment religiously the past several weeks. Here are some excerpts and links to their coverage of the matter.

What Expansion Means for Sun Belt Television

With the recent announcement of new members Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson has indicated that he expects to renegotitate the league’s television deal. The amount of leeway for negotiation of a new deal in the existing contract is unknown without actually seeing the contract but two things will change.

And, this:

In the Long Run Arkansas State Controls Its Destiny

Achieving the goals for the Arkansas State athletic department don’t depend on a your conference. Last year Northern Illinois busted the BCS despite losing to a 4-8 Big 10 team, playing the worst team moving into FBS (UMass) and playing a weaker FCS school. 43 non-AQ schools posted a stronger strength of schedule. The Huskies just won games (except for Iowa). If Northern Illinois had not defeated Kent State in the MAC title game, Kent would have gone to the BCS with a mildly stronger schedule, that still included an FCS, and a blow-out loss to Kentucky on their resume. Three times the BCS has been busted by teams defeating struggling NMSU and Idaho teams.

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