2007 Initiative To Improve the Conference

Nearly seven years ago the Sun Belt Conference adopted a set of performance standards and athletic expectations for its membership. The standards and expectations were seen as the key to improving the league. More than a half decade later, the standards in many ways are further from being implemented than when they were adopted.

In the Spring of 2006, concerned that the league's basketball RPI had fallen from 12 in 2005 to 18 in 2006 and 20 and 2007 league president Dr. Sidney McPhee of Middle Tennessee State appointed a committee to look at steps to improve football and basketball and the overall standing of the conference. The committee was chaired by Arkansas State's Dr. Les Wyatt and was called the Wyatt Committee.

In the short time since the "Sun Belt Chief Executive Officer Initiatives" were adopted to improve the conference the standards have for the most part been tossed to the back of the closet if not in the garbage.

STANDARDS FOR NEW MEMBERS

The conference stated that any future member must play IA (FBS) football, men's and women's basketball, baseball, softball and volleyball or women's soccer.

Of the five schools admitted to the league since then, four offer all seven of the core sports identified by the Wyatt Committee. Texas-Arlington does not offer football nor women's soccer but women's soccer was optional with volleyball, a sport the Mavericks do offer.

STANDARDS FOR CURRENT MEMBERS

Members were expected to offer 15 sports that the Sun Belt offered a championship in. New Orleans and Denver were given a five year grace period to 2012-13 to reach the standard.

UNO and Denver moved on but just as the deadline that had been set for the schools to reach the standard, UALR moved out of compliance. The Trojans announced in April of 2013 that they were dropping women's tennis for financial reasons, leaving the school with only fourteen sports.

FOOTBALL SCHEDULING

Members were expected to play 11 home games over any two year period and to play no more than two non-returned road games in a season. Teams were limited to one FCS opponent and the game must be at home.

Over the 2013 and 2014 seasons ULM will play a total of ten home games and there was no "designated home game" with Arkansas either season. The Warhawks are scheduled to travel to Texas A&M, LSU, and Kentucky that all appear to be games that will not be returned.

BASKETBALL SCHEDULING

The basketball scheduling standards hardly lasted long enough for the ink to dry on the paper. Half of all non-conference games had to be played at home or at a neutral site. No more than two games per season against teams that did not return the game. No games against Division I opponents unless approved by the league office and those games had to be at home if approved.

TICKET AND ATTENDANCE STANDARDS

In football schools were expected to increase season ticket sales and attendance each year until it reached 25% of stadium capacity and attendance to 75% of capacity. Men's and women's basketball attendance was to grow each until reaching 50% of arena capacity and season tickets for men 25% of capacity and 15% for women. Baseball attendance was expected to grow each year to 50% of stadium capacity.

Since the adoption of these targets, AState football attendance and season ticket sales grew each season, as expected by the criteria.

Attendance just missed the conference target in 2011 and exceeded the target in 2012 and 2013. Season ticket sales exceeded the target in both 2012 and 2013. UL Lafayette football attendance met targets in the same period. New members Georgia Southern and Appalachian State appear likely to meet the football targets as well. Members were supposed to receive an annual report showing how well they met the standards.

The Wyatt Committee report and standards appear to no longer be available on the Sun Belt Conference website, the report is still available on a number of other websites and generated discussion in a number of places. The expectations created some interest both within and outside the conference about the direction of the league.

The lesson to be learned is that it is easier to draw up standards than it is to enforce them. The basketball standards were changed within a year after being adopted by a unanimous vote.

UALR chancellor Dr. Joel Anderson was quoted in the release about the standards saying, "This is an important step to help elevate our conference to greater national prominence."

Then UALR dropped to 14 conference sports at the time UNO and Denver were to face expulsion if they failed to reach 15 league sports.

Then ULM president Dr. James Cofer said, "I congratulate the committee for its outstanding work toward setting a course for our conference to take its rightful place alongside the elite in NCAA Division I. This report outlines the goals we must achieve to be competitive as a conference in NCAA Division I. The member schools of the Sun Belt make up an outstanding league and together we can raise the perceptions of others by following the course set forth in this report."

ULM hasn't followed the course set in the report.

Improving the Sun Belt will take more than committee reports, it will require committing to making changes and holding members accountable to whatever standards can be agreed upon.

Copy of the 2007 press release