Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson took to the world wide web today to answer questions from the unwashed masses of Reddit commenters in an Ask Me Anything session, and it was somewhat newsworthy at times. You can read the AMA in its entirety here, but we've boiled down the important stuff you need to know.
As you'd expect, there were quite a few non-answers or answers from softball questions thrown Benson's way, although he did have one deadpan answer that was actually kind of funny.
Q: What is the biggest difference between being the commissioner of the WAC and your current job as commissioner of the Sun Belt?
Benson: I now put Tabasco on my scrambled eggs.
OH KARL, YOU RASCAL.
But when you got past all the pleasantries, Benson did drop a few nuggets that either confirmed what we already suspected or shed some new light on the Sun Belt's conference expansion strategy.
Q: What happened with the Austin Bowl? Is it still in the works as a 5th bowl tie-in?
Benson: We're continuing to work on a 5th bowl tie-in for the Sun Belt Conference. We hope to have a 5th game in place for the 2016 season.
As previously reported, the Austin Bowl's official party line was that the timeline was too short to put together a good enough bowl game package and determine a stadium site for the game. Benson's answer appeared to be non-committal towards Austin being the site of the next Sun Belt bowl game. That's fitting since the Austin Bowl appeared to be non-committal towards the Sun Belt taking part in the inaugural bowl game as well.
Want to watch your games on something other than ESPN3 or (occasionally) ESPN2, ESPNU, or ESPNNEWS? Don't get your hopes up.
Q: What is the future for Sunbelt TV contracts and how will we recover from the collapse of CSS?
What are your strategies for getting more Sunbelt football/basketball games televised?
Benson: The TV future is bright for the Sun Belt Conference. ESPN3 is in 99 million homes and has become a standard for how college sports fans watch college sports. All 63 home games played by Sun Belt Conference member institutions will be on an ESPN platform.
Well, it's better than nothing.
Q: When (if ever) do you expect we'll see a Sun Belt conference championship game? Do you agree one is needed, especially in light of Georgia Southern's easier road this year and last?
Benson: I'm a big proponent of a football championship game. I would like to see one as early as the 2016 season.
The Sun Belt already said that it wouldn't be able to set up a championship game until 2016 at the earliest, but it appears Benson wants to shoot for the earliest start possible. Which might suggest that a 12th team is imminent in the 'Belt because...
Q: What can you tell us about the possible SunBelt expansion?
Benson: It's not expansion, it's been an ongoing attempt to re-establish a 12-team league. The purpose is to get to not only 12 teams but to establish a distinct East and West division.
If your realignment radar is suddenly screaming "IT'S COASTAL CAROLINA," you're certainly not alone. As previously mentioned, Coastal fits in neatly with this vision and also gives App State a travel partner. But what about those scenarios that suggested that Coastal and either Eastern Kentucky or New Mexico State get the full invite and Idaho is shown the door? Well, that doesn't seem likely.
Q: Commissioner Benson - Is it a certainty that the Sun Belt will only extend a full invite to one of Coastal Carolina, NMSU, or EKU? Is there the chance that multiple schools receive an invite?
Benson: Is there a chance that multiple schools receive an invite? The answer is most likely not.
This strongly suggests that Coastal is being targeted, since that gets the league to 12 and the 'Belt can then stop there. It also means that pro-FBS Idaho fans can breathe easy for now.
This also begs the question of how this affects football-only member New Mexico State. Like Idaho, their membership can be reviewed and contractually "reconsidered" after 2015. More than likely, inviting Coastal and putting the league in a 12/14 team arrangement means that Benson will opt to keep NMSU and Idaho in their current contracts and deny NMSU a full invite.
Given the continued instability of the WAC's membership, that could put the Aggies in a bad spot with their Olympic sports. It could also mean a full Sun Belt invite is never coming.