Appalachian State makes it official
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Appalachian State made it official Wednesday by accepting an offer to join the Sun Belt Conference at the Appalachian Athletic Center.
Appalachian State, which has sought membership to a Football Bowl Subdivision conference since Aug. of 2011, becomes a member of the Sun Belt on July 1, 2014. Appalachian State is the second member of the Southern Conference to join the Sun Belt. Hours earlier, Georgia Southern also accepted an invitation to join the league.
"What an awesome day it is for Appalachian," ASU athletic director Charlie Cobb said. "We want to thank App Nation for sharing it with us."
Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson, who made the trip to Boone after being at the news conference in Statesboro, Ga. to announce that Georgia Southern also accepted a bid in the morning, said the two Southern Conference schools are a "perfect fit," for the Sun Belt when it came to academics, geography and competitive athletic teams.
He said that all of the movement in college athletics is not necessarily finished yet, but anticipated that when it is over, the Sun Belt would have 12 teams.
That would allow the conference to stage a conference championship football game between two division champions, which would be held at one of the team's home site. Benson speculated that Appalachian State would be placed in the East Division comprised of ASU, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, South Alabama, Troy and Western Kentucky.
The West Division would include Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Texas State San Marcos and Arkansas State. Idaho and New Mexico State, two programs who are rumored to join the conference, would be the other two teams.
"The Sun Belt's goal is to fill a conference that makes sense," Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said. "As the Sun Belt evaluated Appalachian State, we came to the conclusion that it wasn't just a fit -- it was a perfect fit -- from an athletic standpoint, an athletic standpoint and from a geographical standpoint."
Appalachian State chancellor Kenneth Peacock said that the Sun Belt was good for Appalachian State, but also gave the rest of the Sun Belt programs a bit of a warning.
"We like to win," Peacock told Benson. "We like to be nice, but we also like to win."
The move comes with some conditions. Appalachian State must pay a $600,000 exit fee to the Southern Conference, and an entrance fee of $1 million that can be paid over the course of three years.
The Mountaineers are also not eligible to make the 2013 Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. Should either Appalachian State or Georgia Southern in first place in the SoCon, the next highest SoCon finishing team would receive the automatic bid.
Appalachian State is eligible to win the Sun Belt Conference championship in 2014, but will not be bowl eligible until 2015. Georgia Southern is bound to the same conditions.
Appalachian State has been a member of the Southern Conference since 1970. Appalachian State's football team has won 11 SoCon championships and national championships in 2005-07.
Southern Conference commissioner John Iamarino said he was disappointed to see Appalachian State and Georgia Southern leave, saying that the two schools had good athletic programs.
"I noticed that today when I looked in the mirror that I was wearing a black sweater," Iamarino said. "When I got the call on Monday from Charlie and then from Karl, it takes your breath away for a bit. It stings and it hurts. I don't like to lose any members. I don't like having a press conference when I speak to the media about people leaving, but on the flip side, in the near future I look forward to welcoming in new schools to the conference."
Peacock also praised the presidents and chancellors from the Southern Conference schools he has worked with, but said he was looking forward to working with his new peers.
"This is a long time coming and a long time thinking and a lot of processing to get us to this particular point," Appalachian State chancellor Kenneth Peacock said. "I look forward to working with you as our new commissioner and all of the other presidents and chancellors."