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Liberty Hoping To Cash In For Sun Belt Conference Invite

Liberty athletic director Jeff Barber says Liberty has the financial resources to transition its football program into FBS, he's just waiting for the right opportunity for the Flames.

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Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

The Sun Belt has made it clear that the goal is to eventually have a 12th member. The addition will be driven by football, but it wants that member to be for all sports.

A multitude of schools have been tossed out as possibilities, including James Madison, Missouri State, Jacksonville State and Liberty.

Liberty athletic director Jeff Barber recently told USA Today's Dan Wolken that the Flames are more than ready to make the leap.

The story notes:

Barber said adding staff and 22 football scholarships won't be an issue financially, and the next phase of facility plans include a new all-sports training and academic center with athletic offices. An indoor football practice building is also being discussed.

Not to mention stadium expansion, which Barber said could begin immediately after getting an FBS conference invitation. Already, Liberty has a waiting list for its 18 luxury boxes, which sell for $25,000 per year, indicating there's enough interest to support such a move.

I've spoken to Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson before about expansion, and Liberty was one of the schools he mentioned without me bringing them up specifically. Clearly, they are on the radar. But for one reason or another the Sun Belt has been hesitant to pull the trigger. 

Reports from April insinuate that the Sun Belt covets James Madison instead, a school also ready to make the FBS jump. That interest wasn't reciprocated back to the Sun Belt, leaving the Sun Belt waiting on its 12th member. Liberty would like to be that 12th member. 

Wolken lays out in his articlee the obvious pieces that would make Liberty a viable member of an FBS conference: new facilities with potential to expand, a well-known football coach with FBS experience in Turner Gill, a fan base willing to spend, location and ability to cover cost-of-attendance.

So why not? 

The profile may not be good enough.

But at the league's spring meetings, the Sun Belt voted against adding another school until at least 2015. According to a person with direct knowledge of the Sun Belt's expansion plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the dialogue was supposed to be private, there wasn't much support for inviting Liberty this time around.

"They have a lot of resources, but does anybody even know they're Division I?" the person said. "If we're going to add a 12th, we want someone people are going to recognize and raise the profile of the conference. I just don't think Liberty adds anything to our profile."

When Navy joins the American Athletic Conference, the Sun Belt will be the only Group of Five conference not playing a conference championship game. With Group of Five conferences only getting so much of the College Football Playoff pie, not many will be eager to expand past their current set-ups. 

It's likely that the Sun Belt tries to wait out James Madison, hoping that it offers JMU its only route into FBS. Though time may be limited if the conference hopes to have a championship game during the 2015 season.

Paging Liberty...