By Jesse Wood
March 27, 2013. The atmosphere inside the Appalachian Athletics Center, where boosters, ASU and Sun Belt Conference staff, media and the like gathered for the official announcement of ASU joining the Sun Belt Conference for the 2014 season was slightly electric.
Athletic Director Charlie Cobb essentially called the move a new beginning for ASU and its athletics programs. The move has been two years in the making since the ASU Feasibility Committee recommended the move to FBS in 2011.
“I want to stress the fact that today is a starting point,” Cobb said. “Quite frankly, the easiest course of action was to stay with the status quo. However, and I say this with tremendous respect and gratitude to our past and presence with the Southern Conference, the status is not acceptable for Appalachian.”
Cobb said the “decision was not made lightly in a vacuum” and acknowledged the past and present longwinded debates of the pros and cons of moving to Division 1.
“We welcome respectful dialogue and scrutiny,” Cobb said.
ASU officially joins the Sun Belt Conference as a revenue-sharing member on July 1, 2014 – at which point it will have to pay an exit fee of $600,000 to the Southern Conference, according to a spokesman with the Southern Conference.
In its first year, ASU will be eligible to win the Sun Belt Conference championship, however it won’t be eligible for BCS bowl bid until 2015.
For the 2013 season, ASU football will not be eligible to win a Southern Conference title or its fourth national championship.
At the press conference Cobb acknowledged that this would be disappointing for those football players entering their senior years, yet all other sports – except for field hockey – will be able to compete for Southern Conference titles and bids to NCAA tournaments.
(Because the Sun Belt Conference doesn’t have a field hockey, men’s soccer or wrestling team, those sports programs won’t move to the Sun Belt. Those programs will continue to compete in their respective current conferences, which Cobb described as “fortunate.”)
ASU joins current Southern Conference rival Georgia Southern, which also accepted an invitation to join the Sun Belt on Wednesday, as the conference’s newest members.
The Sun Belt is currently slated to have 12 full-time members when ASU and Georgia Southern join the ranks for the 2014-15 academic year — ASU, Arkansas-Little Rock, Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama, Texas-Arlington, Texas State, Troy and Western Kentucky.
All but Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas-Arlington will field FBS football programs.
Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said at the Wednesday press conference, he is expecting to announce, tonight, two more football additions to the Sun Belt Conference to round out the field of 12 football teams in the Sun Belt.
Benson called Georgia Southern and ASU “plums of the FCS” in the Southeast region.
“Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are an absolute homerun for the Sun Belt Conference,” Benson said. “Appalachian is a perfect fit – academically, athletically and geographically.”
Benson discussed the changing landscapes of conferences across the country, noting that of the 31 conferences in Division 1, only two of those conferences didn’t have any changes.
As usual, ASU Chancellor Kenneth Peacock was his chipper self at the press conference.
He said, “The future is so bright, sometimes we have to wear shades.”
When asked what, if any, downsides he saw about the move to Division 1, he said he saw none, although he did acknowledge that this move “comes at a tough time” for higher education, when budget cuts threaten many areas of learning.
“I am convinced this opens the door for additional types of revenue,” Peacock said, adding that he preferred to say ASU is “moving on” – not “moving up.”
And echoing Cobb, Peacock said this move would not be done on the backs of students.
Cobb did say that the athletics department would need an additional $4 million to $6 million dollars of additional revenue on top of its $15 million annual budget for the move to FBS. It must also raise the number of football scholarships from 63 to 85, which will cost more, but at the same time provide more talent to the club.
While Cobb mentioned that the move to Division 1 will act as a “great conduit for giving,” he also added that ASU Athletics “needs to get better at raising money.”
“The heavy lifting starts today,” Cobb said. “We have 15 months to walk through this and learn from those who’ve been down this path before.”
Here are photos from the press conference ASU and its athletics program held on Wednesday afternoon announcing the move to Division 1. Check back for much more info on the move. In the mean time, check out the photos below and scroll down the “Sports” page of HCPress.com for several stories regarding the move. Photos by Jesse Wood