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Tue, Jul 29, 2014

Time to divorce the Sun Belt

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Sometimes, you have to make tough choices in order to improve for the future.

At the same time, you have to leave behind those people who have helped you along the way to become great. Unfortunately, most of those relationships end in bitter divorce.

While MTSU Athletics looks to the future by joining Conference USA in July 2014 (possibly sooner), it’s parting with the Sun Belt Conference may have harvested bad feelings between the program and the conference that helped them make the jump to Division I-A.

However, this will not be the first time the Blue Raiders have had to leave a conference.

Beginning in 1952, MTSU was a proud member of the Ohio Valley Conference until July 2000 when it joined the Sun Belt. Its football team won 11 Ohio Valley titles, made six NCAA playoffs and played in four bowl games.

The main reason for the conference change was a need for the football program to make the move from Division I-AA, now the Football Championship Subdivision, to Division I-A, now the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Of course, it meant the Blue Raiders had to leave traditional in-state conference foes like Tennessee State, Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech.

It was the right move because the Blue Raiders had to find a conference home for that had a higher level of college football.

The Sun Belt was the perfect place for the Blue Raiders.

In 2000, there were several football programs besides MTSU wanting to make that jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision.

As a conference, the Sun Belt was also looking to make history by creating a football league that could compete for bowl berths, and maybe, even BCS games.

During that first season, the Blue Raiders were 5-0 headed to 0-5 North Texas. By the end of the game, the Mean Green upset the Blue Raiders, 24-21.

North Texas only lost one other game during that regular season and finished 5-6, while MTSU finished 8-3. Both teams finished with the same conference record 5-1.

In a stupid decision that probably haunts MTSU even today, the Mean Green got the New Orleans Bowl berth as Sun Belt champion, even with a losing record.

Ironically, over the past decade both teams have continued to be rivals, but in different conference divisions.

Earlier this year, the North Texas athletic program announced it would be moving to C-USA at the end of this academic year.

There were many positive results for the Blue Raiders during its time in the Sun Belt, including eight All-Sports trophies, 54 conference championships, four Athletes of the Year and 38 Coaches of the Year.

Even though, I enjoyed dealing with everyone associated with the Sun Belt. I felt there was something missing.

For example, it seemed fans could not get behind the conference matchups, especially with fellow members so far away.

Also, many fans believe some conference members did not have any name recognition around the landscape of college sports, especially in football.

Of course, when Western Kentucky made the move to the Sun Belt football in 2009, it was the rebirth of an old Ohio Valley rivalry from long ago, but it still was not enough to increase attention.

Three years ago, the landscape began changing in college sports with Nebraska making the move to the Big 10, and Texas A&M and Missouri going to the SEC.

Many universities were looking to make important decisions to keep their athletic programs moving in the right direction, including MTSU.

In the past couple of years, reports had C-USA and MTSU flirting with each other.

Dduring this time, fellow conference teams North Texas and Florida International announced they were heading to C-USA.

On Nov. 29, MTSU Athletics made the decision to join C-USA.

Like 11 years ago, it was the right move for the Blue Raider athletic program, but the Sun Belt appeared to be less than happy about it, especially with it about to host its top football programs, MTSU and Arkansas State a few days later for the championship.

By now you know, the Blue Raiders lost 45-0, and were left out of a bowl game even with an 8-4 record that included a win at Georgia Tech.

Many fans, including me, believe the Blue Raiders were left out of a bowl this season, seemingly because of the move to the C-USA.

I had a chance to discuss the matter with Sun Belt officials who were saying the right things and being forthcoming with the issue.

But, something still does not add up.

I believe the its true motivations will not become public anytime in the near future.

As a result, this has made the relationship between both parties very negative.

It’s time for a clean break, even if it is before July 2014.

There is no way this relationship will be repaired before then.

It’s sad to say, but it’s time for a divorce, and both side need to find new partners.
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Tags: 
Blue Raiders, Conference USA, MTSU, SBC, Sports, Sun Belt
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