The Sun Belt is still looking for a 12th team. Could it be UMass?
Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson told CBS Sports that the school and conference have had a "very preliminary" discussion after UMass called the Sun Belt.
UMass has been a football member of the MAC but will play its final season in the conference in 2015. It is a member in the Atlantic-10 in basketball. According to a release announcing the school's departure from the conference in March, a clause in the contract said UMass could become a full-time member of the conference or stay for two more seasons as a football-only member.
Adding UMass to the Sun Belt would be a matter of a conference needing a team and a team looking for a conference. The Minutemen aren't a geographical fit for the conference and have struggled in its two seasons of FBS-level football, going 1-11 in each. Last year, UMass's only win came over Miami (OH), who went 0-12 on the season.
The Sun Belt has been looking for a 12th team to be able to host a conference championship game. In April, James Madison made the decision to stay at the FCS level rather than jump up to the Sun Belt. UMass' potential inclusion will be discussed at the conference's meetings later in May.
At the bottom of the FBS tier, the Sun Belt has been heavily impacted by conference realignment and has been scrambling to find additional teams. Western Kentucky is leaving for Conference USA for the 2014 season, which dropped the Sun Belt back to 11 teams.
In 2012, Benson had a master plan for the conference after he arrived from being the WAC's commissioner. He targeted as many as 21 different schools for expansion. However, Florida Atlantic, Florida International Middle Tennesee State and North Texas went to Conference USA.
After the WAC disintegrated amidst conference expansion in 2013, the Sun Belt went west and grabbed Idaho (who is banned for the 2014 postseason) and New Mexico State. Both teams are set to join the conference in 2014 along with Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.
If UMass becomes a football member, the trip from Idaho to Massachusetts would be over 2,800 miles by car, or approximately 200 miles more than what would be the longest trip in 2014, Idaho to Georgia Southern. Those long road trips are the price teams are willing to pay to be a part of a FBS conference.
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