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Sun Belt shuts door on Liberty's bid to join conference
When Liberty announced its intentions of moving its football program to the Football Bowl Subdivision nearly two weeks ago, the list of potential new conference homes was small.
That list got even slimmer on Wednesday. While addressing the addition of Texas-Arlington as a non-football playing member after the conference’s spring meetings in Florida, Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said, “We are not pursuing additional members at this time. At this juncture, the Sun Belt shouldn’t be considered a landing spot whether it’s an FCS member or an existing FBS member.”
Liberty athletics director Jeff Barber, who was watching the Flames at the Big South baseball tournament, confirmed the university had made contact with the Sun Belt in regards to membership.
“We’re not totally surprised by it,” Barber said. “I think they’re one of the leagues that’s been determining what is the next step, what is the right thing for them to do. As he said, at this time, they’re not looking to do any more.
“My assumption would be that he’s saying, ‘We’re going to stop right now, we’re going to take some time and see where we are and re-evaluate down the road.’ Where that down the road is, six months, a year, I don’t know.”
The Sun Belt will have 10 football-playing members in 2013, when Georgia State and Texas State join the league.
Liberty’s hopes of finding an FBS home now likely rest on either the Mid-American Conference or a revamped Western Athletic Conference. There has been little chatter from the MAC in regards to expansion. The mostly Midwestern-based league recently lost Temple to the Big East in all sports but added Massachusetts as a football-affiliate member.
The WAC will be down to two football-playing members in 2013 — Idaho and New Mexico State. Neither has drawn interest from the Sun Belt, the Mountain West or Conference USA in the recent round of conference realignment. Reached last week via e-mail, WAC interim commissioner Jeff Hurd said, “The WAC has for the past several weeks worked to identify every possible viable option to solidify its future, and that process is ongoing. It is way too premature to speculate on when or where it will end.”
The WAC’s Board of Directors will meet June 11-12 in Denver.
“We’re trying to move forward,” Hurd told the Idaho Statesman on Wednesday. “We’re trying to survive as a viable conference and maintain an FBS-level entity with the WAC. We’re going to exhaust every possible option out there.”
Barber said he was confident in LU’s appeal as a potential FBS conference member.
“I wish they had said they were looking to expand and move to 16. That would certainly give us more options,” he said. “We still believe we have great potential to be a quality FBS institution. There are still some options out there.”
By: CHRIS LANG, The News & Advance