Feb. 12, 2014. Appalachian State Univesrity men’s soccer, which was originally slated to remain in the Southern Conference as an associate member, will instead participate with 17 other Appalachian State sports in the Sun Belt Conference beginning in 2014. The Sun Belt announced on Tuesday that it is reintroducing men’s soccer as a league-sponsored sport after a 19-year hiatus.
Full Sun Belt members Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Georgia State will be joined by Hartwick, Howard and New Jersey Institute of Technology to form the six-team Sun Belt men’s soccer league. The teams will play a single round-robin schedule in 2014 and a six-team, single elimination tournament at a yet-to-be-determined campus site. The tournament champion will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship.
The Sun Belt previously sponsored men’s soccer from the conference’s inception in 1976 until 1995. In fact, the first-ever Sun Belt championship in any sport was the 1976 men’s soccer championship.
The league’s decision to begin sponsoring men’s soccer again was spurred by the recent additions of Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Georgia State – which all field men’s soccer programs – to the conference membership. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern were originally slated to remain in the SoCon as associate members before the league chose to not offer associate membership to schools in a sport where the SoCon has enough full members to field the NCAA minimum of six programs.
The ideal solution of having men’s soccer join the 17 Appalachian State ports already set to participate in the Sun Belt came to fruition when conference officials and the league presidents and athletic directors extended invitations to Hartwick, Howard and NJIT to join the league as associate members. The six league members have distinguished men’s soccer histories with a combined 38 NCAA Division I postseason appearances. Hartwick and Howard have combined to make 13 College Cup (Final Four) appearances and win three national championships.
“This announcement means a lot to our program and our student-athletes,” Appalachian State head coach Matt Nelson said.
“It is exciting to be starting an entirely new conference next year. It will bring us new competition and new challenges and that in itself will add a level of excitement to the program. On behalf of our team, I would like to thank the Sun Belt Conference, Charlie Cobb, Chancellor Peacock as well as the other athletic directors and Sun Belt administrators that pushed this through so that we could get our conference started in the fall of 2014.”
“The reintroduction of men’s soccer to the Sun Belt Conference means that we will be able to provide valuable opportunities for student-athletes and deliver them a first-class championship experience,” Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said.
“Our new affiliate members provide us with a full field of competitive teams and we welcome them to the Sun Belt Conference. We are looking forward to having an automatic qualifier in the sport to represent us in the NCAA postseason and we are optimistic at the possibility of sending multiple teams to the tournament field each year.”