"Each year, our ESPN and ESPN Regional television package gets more and more exciting," said Wright Waters, commissioner of the Sun Belt. "The great friendship we have with ESPN gives us the best chance to showcase the league throughout the country. It also makes a huge impact on recruiting and gives our institutions a better chance to get the highest quality student-athletes."
The Sun Belt Conference, beginning its 29th year of existence in the fall, has partnered with ESPN for 26 of those years, the longest running relationship between the network and any conference.
"We value the relationship with the Sun Belt Conference," said Dan Shoemaker, General Manager of ESPN Regional-West Virginia. "The Sun Belt continues to strengthen its membership and it scheduling opportunities and as a result has placed itself in a position of growth within the current structure of college football."
The national component will begin with a Thursday, September 9 non-conference tilt between Missouri and the new Sun Belt member Troy at Movie Gallery Stadium in Troy, Ala. In another nationally televised contest, three-time league champion North Texas will travel to face Louisiana on Friday, November 5. Both games will be carried by ESPN2.
On September 25th, the Sun Belt-ERT Network will begin with a rematch of one of last season's most exciting games. Middle Tennessee will travel to face Louisiana after falling to the Ragin' Cajuns 57-51 in a four overtime thriller in 2003. Utah State will then travel to face the league's newest member, Troy University on October 2nd, followed by New Mexico State at North Texas on October 23rd. Louisiana-Monroe will also travel to play the Mean Green (Oct. 30) before the first of two Thursday night games, Utah State at Arkansas State (Nov. 11). The package will conclude with Idaho traveling to North Texas (Nov. 13) and UNT heading to Arkansas State (Nov. 18).
The 2004 Wyndham New Orleans Bowl will again kick off the bowl season on December 14th on ESPN. Prior to this season, the New Orleans Bowl was broadcast on ESPN2, but the success that the three-year-old game has seen in ratings and attendance aided in the move to the flagship station of the ESPN family on networks. The game will pit the Sun Belt's Champion against a selected member of Conference USA in the Louisiana Superdome located in New Orleans.
The Sun Belt's enhanced agreement with ESPN, which was announced by the league in May, extends the conference's original contract into the 2007-08 season. The new agreement features an increased number of national exposures on ESPN and ESPN2 beginning with the 2004-05 season. The package also includes regionally syndicated telecasts of football and basketball through ESPN Regional Television (ERT)
The 2004 Sun Belt-ESPN Regional Television Network will feature all Sun Belt football programs in at least seven telecasts. The network will be seen on a variety of regional cable networks, local over-the-air-stations and cable systems throughout the Sun Belt region.