Rumors began to circulate on the internet last week that Eastern Kentucky, one of the schools being considered for Sun Belt Conference expansion, had been eliminated from consideration. While this would appear to be good news for Liberty’s chances of receiving an invitation, the news was soon followed by this tweet from Eastern Kentucky President Michael Benson (no relation to Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson):
@BShroats5 Not sure. But we’re not moving for now. There are no slots available for FCS schools to move, even if we wanted to.
— Michael Benson (@EKUPrez) April 25, 2014
That tweet was in response to being asked when the next chance for Eastern Kentucky to move to FBS would be. The tweet was reportedly followed by an email from Michael Benson to EKU students, which reads as follows:
We have learned from the Commissioner of the Sun Belt that we are no longer being considered for expansion at this time. Instead, the member institutions of the Sun Belt seem to be narrowing their attention to those universities currently within the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), and not to those Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) schools considering a move upward.
We will remain in the Ohio Valley Conference, will continue to improve our facilities and expand our programs, and will compete on the national stage of FCS football.
I have appreciated the input received from interested faculty, staff, and students on the topic of EKU and the future of our athletics program and remain committed to moving our institution forward, both academically and athletically.
While the EKU President’s tweet, combined with this alleged email appear to eliminate not just EKU, but any FCS program from Sun Belt consideration (that would include Liberty), there remain plenty of questions here. Lynchburg News & Advance writer Chris Lang stated on April 27th that:
“I can’t confirm if there’s a meeting scheduled or not. But I can confirm Liberty is very much still in play, and that the assertion of the EKU president that the SB is looking FBS only at this point is untrue.”
These viewpoints seem to conflict, so we contacted Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson for comment.
Duke Cuneo: The EKU President Michael Benson stated over twitter and email that the Sun Belt is only looking at current FBS programs for conference expansion at this time. Can you confirm or deny this?
Karl Benson: Sorry but I cannot
Duke Cuneo: Is Liberty still under consideration?
Karl Benson: Again I cannot comment – sorry.
Well, that was not particularly revealing. We reached out to Liberty Athletic Director Jeff Barber for clarification, however at the time of this article Liberty Flames Nation had not received a response.
So, where does all of this leave Liberty? If what the EKU President stated is accurate, and the Sun Belt is only interested in current FBS programs, the list of possibilities for expansion can be narrowed to one school: UMass. They recently announced their intentions to part ways with the MAC, and are looking for a conference home for their football program. While well outside of the Sun Belt footprint, a football only relationship with UMass would give the Sun Belt their coveted 12th football member and a conference championship game. It would also “kick the can down the road” per se, giving other schools such as Missouri State or Eastern Kentucky to make necessary preparations for an FBS move. Additionally, it would give JMU a chance for a change of heart, however unlikely that seems.
Of course, if Chris Lang and his sources are correct, Liberty is still very much in play. If that is the case, the EKU President is either misinformed, or is simply saving face by giving a reason his school was passed over that is out of his control. Either way, it would appear that Liberty’s only competition for a Sun Belt invitation is UMass. The June 1st deadline for announcing a move to FBS is fast approaching, so this will all be cleared up soon.
Confused? We are too. Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Karl Benson is scheduled to appear on Two Cents Radio tonight at 9:30 PM Eastern, so perhaps they will be able to extract more information from the Commissioner than we could. Stay tuned, as always this situation is very fluid.