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Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson steps down. What is his legacy?

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Karl Benson’s sudden departure leaves us to evaluate what he’s done for Sun Belt football.

Louisiana Monroe v Georgia Southern Photo by Todd Bennett/Getty Images

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson will step down from his position according to Tim Buckley of The Daily Advertiser.

The announcement is a shocker. Benson took over as Sun Belt commissioner in 2012 after former conference commish Wright Waters’ decision to retire.

Benson leaves behind a conference in much better shape than when he found it. His major accomplishments include installing a Sun Belt Championship Game and going forward with a more geographical friendly conference by dropping Idaho and New Mexico State, a move current school presidents badly wanted.

Another accomplishment has to be the way Benson approached conference alignment in 2014. After losing FAU, FIU, Middle Tennessee, WKU and North Texas to Conference USA, Benson shrewdly added former FCS powers Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, and programs with massive potential in Texas State and Georgia State. The #FunBelt era began, and with it came recognizable programs with a fun brand of football.

While rival Conference USA toiled in anonymity with former Sun Belt schools, the Sun Belt conference was able to rise in brand recognition thanks in large part to placing marquee matchups on ESPN networks on weekdays, giving the conference a much needed spotlight. The transition created a unique identity in a time where G5 conferences are being left behind on the national landscape.

But for all of the good Benson has done for the conference, there were gaffes made. Such as recurring media conference call glitches, or perhaps the biggest, navigating the changing television broadcast landscape for Sun Belt football. In times such as these, it’s hard to be overly critical of G5 commissioners though.

The disparity between the P5 and the G5 continues to widen when it comes to money and attention. With TV money shrinking, there’s not much Benson could have done in this regard to improve the Sun Belt’s stance.

At the time of Benson’s arrival, the Sun Belt was hardly a player in the FBS landscape with its football members: Arkansas State, Louisiana, Louisiana–Monroe, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, FAU, FIU, South Alabama, Troy and WKU.

The Sun Belt’s current members are now Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Coastal, Troy, App State, ULM, Arkansas State, Texas State, Louisiana and South Alabama. Not a bad trade off when considering the overwhelming amount of conference realignment which has occurred over the past few years.

Under Benson’s guidance the Sun Belt has done what it’s needed to survive by being flexible with membership. The conference has viability in its current state. In recent memory, the Sun Belt has produced memorable upsets in the NCAA Tournament (Georgia State over Baylor in 2015) and in college football (Troy over LSU in 2017), and achieved a landmark feat when the Trojans became the first Sun Belt team to make an appearance in the AP Top 25 Poll last season.

Considering the murky future G5 conferences currently have, the new commissioner’s biggest task will be the one Benson has been able to accomplish: Keep the Sun Belt afloat.