If you have been reading my column for a while, you know that I possess a quality that is archetypal to columnists; I have strong opinions. I say this, because my opinion on realignment as it relates to Liberty and the Sun Belt Conference has evolved, especially over the past few weeks. Many theories have been discussed as to why the Sun Belt has failed to invite Liberty to their conference. However, the Sun Belt’s apparent strong interest in Coastal Carolina and/or Eastern Kentucky over the past few weeks has made it apparent that many of the stock reasons Liberty has not been invited are irrelevant.Liberty University is being discriminated against on the basis of religious beliefs. I have been very hesitant to say this, but at this point, it is plainly obvious. It certainly isn’t an issue of on the field success, as Coastal could only be said to have been marginally more successful on the gridiron. Remember that only one of Coastal’s four playoff appearances came from actually winning the Big South outright. Two of them came from the Big South’s highly questionable tie breaker system. Both Liberty and Coastal claim five Big South titles. So winning isn’t the issue here.
From a resource perspective, Liberty offers things to the Sun Belt that neither Coastal Carolina or Eastern Kentucky could never dream of. The Chanticleers play in a 9,200 seat stadium, and reportedly average 9,000 fans per game. The Flames already play in a packed stadium that seats 20,000, while Coastal has “plans” to expand to 21,000. In addition to facilities, Liberty brings a television network, financial stability, and a national footprint that Coastal cannot. That is not to mention the reportedly massive financial package Liberty offered the Sun Belt. Crunching the numbers, Liberty is obviously a better candidate.Is Liberty too strong financially for the Sun Belt? I can grant those that believe this to be the issue that this is a reasonable theory. Certainly Liberty’s finances and private status could significantly accelerate the athletic spending arms race in the conference. In a conference full of state schools, it makes sense that other college Presidents would have concerns. However, the good far outweighs the bad. Bringing in a strong financial partner is more likely to bring the entire conference up. Liberty is committed to being successful on a national stage. What would bring more attention and revenue to a league like the Sun Belt than that type of success? Other conferences have mentioned Liberty’s financial strength as positive aspect of their inclusion, and an honest broker from the Sun Belt would admit the same.
Academics? There isn’t a school in the Sun Belt that can make a legitimate claim to offering more academically than Liberty University. GPA’s, test scores, and ranking of incoming students are significantly higher at Liberty than a decade ago. Graduation rates are up. Liberty has more diversity, more programs of study, and better academic facilities than Coastal Carolina. Liberty isn’t competing against the Ivy League here. Coastal Carolina and Eastern Kentucky are not a step up in the world of academics.
No, this isn’t about winning, or facilities, or finances, or academics. This is about who Liberty is. They don’t like us. A handful of elitist academics that don’t understand the actual meaning of tolerance have decided that they would rather not be associated with a school like Liberty, where the gospel of Jesus is unashamedly preached, and the political left doesn’t have a stranglehold on ideas. They don’t like Liberty’s progressive academic model, eliminating the inefficiencies of old academia. They don’t like that Liberty doesn’t compromise on standards of moral principle to fit whichever way the social wind is blowing. They don’t like that Liberty challenges students to learn many viewpoints, not just ones that are accepted academic dogma. They don’t like Biblical Christianity. It makes them uncomfortable. And to their detriment, they will accept a lesser program to avoid it. It is time for Liberty to start exploring another way to FBS football.