Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Hope on Horizon for Sun Belt

Imagine: One week 100,000 fans are raining boos down on you while you stare across the field at a team loaded with potential All-Americans, a Heisman candidate and a future Hall of Fame coach. You traversed the long road from your 15,000-seat stadium to this temple to the football gods by bus rather than plane. Oh, and Vegas has set the spread at a meager 43 points.

Welcome to the world of football in the Sun Belt Conference.

Every year, as summer turns to fall, BCS teams open their seasons with what they expect to be, and usually are, easy wins. Who these teams play varies wildly. Some play FCS teams, some play teams like Navy and occasionally programs will schedule a Sun Belt team.

First, the question is: Why, if you are a big-time program, would you play a Sun Belt team? Why not play a big-time game? Fans hate when their teams play games that don’t seem to prepare them for a big game later in the season. But college football isn’t a game, it’s a business. If you can add an extra home game, and all the profits that come with it, then it’s a no-brainer.

Take, for instance, Texas’ home-opening win over Louisiana-Monroe.

By playing that extra home game early in the season, Texas expected to make a hefty profit as 101,096 fans crowded into Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium – the largest crowd in the history of the state of Texas. If we assume that tickets on average cost $40 – it was probably less for students, but luxury boxes that cost $10,000 a game certainly brought the price up – then that is $4 million on ticket sales alone. Plus the boon to local businesses, ranging from hotels to restaurants and the sale of Texas merchandise – people don’t wear jerseys in Austin, they wear authentic Nike, burnt-orange collared shirts – and you can see that attending home football games is like finding the city of gold.

Why should a Sun Belt team like Louisiana-Monroe put itself through such an experience?

First, again, is money. Monroe stood to gain, based on the average payout for such a game, somewhere between $600,000 and $1 million for playing the game. That’s the type of money that can put not only a football program, but also an entire athletic department on track to finish in the black.

Besides the monetary incentive, it’s an opportunity for the Sun Belt teams to prove themselves. In its eighth year of sponsoring football, the Sun Belt might be the fastest-growing league in the nation.

Since 2001, Alabama, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M have all fallen to Sun Belt teams. In Nick Saban’s first year at Alabama, the Tide were felled by Louisiana-Monroe – in Tuscaloosa no less – and just last week Kansas State fell victim to the Ragin Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette.

The players in the Sun Belt conference, while overlooked by the average fan, are not intimidated by playing the Alabamas of the world. The chance to play a team of Alabama’s caliber only serves to prepare Sun Belt teams for their real goal: winning their league title. “Win Belt, Win Bowl” said a Louisiana-Monroe T-shirt in Austin, summing up the goal for any Sun Belt team. Playing Texas prepared Monroe for a 48-0 drubbing they put on Texas Southern the following week. Every year as the Sun Belt challenges itself against BCS teams, it improves the quality of play in other non-conference games and in league play.

In the world of the BCS, conference supremacy has become an important talking point, and the Sun Belt is gaining some prominence of its own. With the big wins, even some big names have started to flow to the Sun Belt – Texas high school legend Todd Dodge left Southlake Carroll High School after his fourth state title in five years to take the helm at North Texas.

There will always be a difference between playing an away game at Texas versus a home game at North Texas, but with each week the Sun Belt is starting to shine light on the talent in the conference, and the fans are coming.

“This past week, we had 41,000 fans at that game,” Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters told The Kansas City Star last week. “It was way over capacity, and another one of our teams had 22,000. Both won substantially. As simple as that sounds to you guys in the Big 12, eight years ago that wasn’t the case in our league. It was in front of 8,000 people and it was a very iffy proposition if we could even win the game.”

On Saturday Sun Belt teams will line up on the road against Maryland, Alabama, LSU, South Carolina and Arizona State. What does that mean for the conference? It’s just another chance for the Sun Belt to show the nation that it belongs.

Ryan Travers is a senior in the College. He can be reached at Illegal Procedure appears in every Friday issue of Hoya Sports. “

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