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Originally published: 2014-07-03 17:28:58
Last modified: 2014-07-03 17:29:41

Sun Belt welcomes Appalachian State

by Steve Behr Sports Editor

It's no secret that Appalachian State is happy with its move to the Sun Belt Conference. The feeling seems to be mutual by the league.

At least that was the reaction by associate Sun Belt commissioner John McElwain when Appalachian State officially joined the league Tuesday. McElwain was on hand to help Appalachian State usher in a new era in its athletic history.

McElwain said Appalachian State's tradition of success in athletics, particularly in football, made the program an easy choice in joining the league. The Mountaineers have been one of the premier programs in the Football Championship Subdivision, formally known as Division I-AA before 2006.

Included in that stretch are three FCS national championships from 2005-07, and 12 Southern Conference championships. Appalachian State also pulled off one of the biggest upsets in college football history with a 34-32 win over Michigan in 2007.

"Obviously, the history and the tradition of the football program is just the beginning of the story," McElwain said. "Too often, people recognize App as the team that beat Michigan, and that couldn't be further from the truth. There are so many stories of success here, and not just in football. I know they are going to be successful in so many of our sports. Academically, they match up very well. They're going to be one of the more prestigious schools here. Facilities-wise, they definitely match up very well."

Appalachian State's overall men's athletic programs produced 34 Commissioner's Cups, which is awarded to the top overall program, in 42 years in the SoCon. Appalachian State has also won the last nine cups, and won 22 of the last 23.

The women's program has won the Germann Cup 10 times in the 28 years it's been awarded. That is second to the 13 times Furman has won the award. Appalachian State finished fifth this season.

Appalachian State is also the only program to win both cups in the same season, having done so nine times. The last time was the 2012-13 season.

But Appalachian State joins a league that presents a new set of challenges. The Sun Belt had three teams reach the NCAA men's basketball tournament in 2014, and Louisiana-Lafayette's baseball team was ranked No. 1 in the nation during the 2014 season on March 24.

Two Sun Belt teams -- Lafayette and Arkansas State -- both won bowl games.

Arkansas State beat Ball State 23-20 in the GoDaddy bowl, and Louisiana-Lafayette beat Tulane 24-21 in the New Orleans Bowl.

Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State each finished 5-2 to tie for the Sun Belt football championships. Louisiana-Lafayette finished 9-4 overall, while Arkansas State was 8-5.

Boone is also one of the smallest markets in a league that includes Texas-Arlington and Georgia State, which is in Atlanta. South Alabama is located in Mobile, Ala.

"We've had sort of a mix of markets," McElwain said. "We are in the Dallas area (Texas Arlington) and we have a school close to San Antonio (Texas State), but we've got other small market schools in Jonesboro, Ark., (Arkansas State) and Troy, Ala., so we do have a mixture of these type of schools. The market size is one thing, but the success of (App State's) program and what they bring to the table and elevating our national picture, not just regionally, but when we do play on ESPN and get a chance to beat nonconference opponents, that's what's going to elevate us the most."

McElwain also did not dismiss the significance of App State's win over Michigan. The two teams play in a rematch on Aug. 30 in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"Of course, it's what most people recognize as what Appalachian State has done," he said. "It is just the beginning, though. I really think that. It's one of many stories that we will be able to tell."