What is the next step for Arkansas State University to reach the Next Level?
We hear Gus Malzahn talk about on a regular basis his plans to take ASU Football to the Next Level, but our question today in this Publisher Commentary is Can ASU or even Malzahn control some of the things necessary for the Red Wolves to take that next step or accomplish the Next Level?
What will it take?
Can Arkansas State take its Football program and other athletic programs to the "Next Level" in the Sun Belt Conference?
Some fans feel that the Sun Belt is a good place to be for ASU, but with the recent additions of Georgia State and Texas State some fans feel that the Sun Belt Conference is taking on water (the iceberg has been hit) instead of adding quality D1 teams such as Louisiana Tech and going out and finding another D1 team to replace North Texas and FIU.
Many ASU fans wonder why the Red Wolves wasn't taken already by Conference USA instead of perhaps North Texas.
Here are some of the reasons why.
ASU has to prove to other conference officials that it can win on a consistent basis. I feel that the ASU Administration has made that pledge to do that by the hiring of Gus Malzahn. They have taken that next step in that regard.
The second step (or reason) is that the budgets of all sports must improve and increase to match other schools in those other conferences.
How can ASU accomplish increase the budgets of the football program and other sports?
One of the easiest answers is for the ASU Fans to buy more season tickets, to become a member of the Red Wolf Club, to donate more money into the program. That is something that every fan can control. While all fans aren't able to make large contributions, buying a ticket to every game is very reasonable. If you can't make every game, go to as many as you can.
Another way for fans to help is to spread the word about the excitement and energy surrounding this program to their family, friends and co-workers. Continue to increase the interest factor in ASU Football, ASU Basketball and ASU Baseball. We have to sell out ASU Stadium.
We have to improve ASU Athletic facilities, this one is about to happen. The commitment to do so has already been made.
It's widely known nationally that the Sun Belt Conference is perceived as the weakest conference in the nation. That's before we added two 1-AA teams to replace one of the better teams in FIU and North Texas who has won in the past few years.
We have a top flight Head Football Coach, Head Basketball Coach and Head Baseball Coach. We are hitting the mark in those areas, so why aren't we more attractive to other conferences.
The main answer is that ASU must be a consistent winner. You have heard the old saying winning cures all ills. Well it's true in this case.
Why is it important to leave the Sun Belt Conference?
Arkansas State had it's most successful season since joining Division 1 FBS Football and still couldn't crack the Top 25 with a 10-3 record. There was no Sun Belt team in the Top 25, there were two Conference USA Teams that cracked it.
Some fans will say all ASU has to do is dominate the Sun Belt for the next three years and something better will happen. To those fans I poise this question. If Arkansas State isn't proactive in the situation and works to get another conference bid, what happens if Troy, Middle Tennessee State or ULL leaves the conference before ASU leaving the Red Wolves with the likes of a bunch of 1-AA schools.
This is a new age and a new day for Arkansas State Athletics. Every fan needs to take that attitude. It's apparent that the athletic administration and leadership of our university has. Now it's time to forge a new path, build a new future.
What that future holds, no one really knows, but as one coach said recently it's great to dream, when dreaming, dream for bigger and better.
My question to you is the Sun Belt the bigger better conference, right now the answer is no in my opinion.
Does it mean its Conference USA maybe, maybe not, but at this point it's better than the alternative.
It's not to say that the Sun Belt Conference isn't stronger than it was 10 years ago, because it definitely has made huge strides to compete with Conference USA and had closed the gap before the recent moves.
If only the Sun Belt had joined with Conference USA when the reshuffling began, take the top Six Sun Belt teams along with the top six to eight USA teams and create a new conference and a new name. To me that would have been the best solution, but isn't hindsight a beautiful thing.
Publisher Note: I will be the first to admit that I have only been covering the Sun Belt Conference for the last year, but have been a part of college football either coaching it or covering it for over 12 years. This commentary is to increase the discussion on this subject and to get everyone's opinion on the issue. This is my opinion on the topic and I would like to hear yours.