Benson and Levick have talked about GSU to Sun Belt

Karl Benson said he has had several informal conversations with Georgia State athletic director Cheryl Levick about the Panthers possibly joining the Sun Belt Conference.

Benson, commissioner of the conference, said no invitation has been issued, and he will likely visit Georgia State on a fact-finding mission. Levick confirmed that they have talked informally and said she told Colonial Athletic Association commissioner Tom Yeager about the discussions. She declined to comment any further. reported on Wednesday that Georgia State is one of the leading candidates to join the conference, citing “college football industry source.”

“It’s exploratory on both sides,” Benson said. “We are in the process of exploring institutions that are in the Sun Belt footprint that can improve the overall strength and quality of the conference.”

Benson said he isn’t in a hurry to add new members, though he does recognize that the NCAA has placed a June 1 deadline on applications for schools that wish to move from the FCS (formerly Div. I-AA) to FBS. Georgia State is currently a member of the CAA in all sports, including football, which it plays on the FCS level.

He said the conversations between he and Levick have focused on topics such as Georgia State’s possible aspirations to one day play football on the FBS level, the timeline for achieving that goal, and how it meshes with the Sun Belt’s desire to add members.

Benson said the purpose of a fact-finding mission is to gauge a school’s dedication to athletics and academics. He said potential is more important than tradition. Georgia State has been playing football for just two seasons. It has been a CAA member in other sports since 2005.

“You are looking for schools that have great potential and great upside,” he said. “From what I have gathered thus far, there is strong institutional commitment and then there are the natural assets that they have in terms of location and the overall university characteristics in addition to the athletic characteristics.”

If Georgia State were invited to join the Sun Belt, it must pay an exit fee of at least $250,000 to leave the CAA, and will likely have to forfeit any revenue-sharing agreements with the conference, which could mean as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars. It may also have to forfeit the chance to participate in any of the conference’s tournaments. There also will be an entry fee to the Sun Belt, which Benson said is in the process of being changed for any new members.

Georgia State’s athletic department has been exploring possibilities for the past few months. Levick commissioned a report last year that studied the ramifications of moving up to FBS.

The report concluded that “GSU is well-positioned to make a transition to FBS” and “that the Sun Belt would be the best fit.” A draft of the report, along with the contract between Georgia State and the authors, Atlanta-based Collegiate Consulting, was obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an Open Records Request. The report cost $20,000.

Georgia State is well-positioned to move to the Sun Belt from a budgetary standpoint, according to the study. The athletic department’s projected $22.9 million in revenues in 2011-12 is 44 percent more than the average Sun Belt member, according to the report. However, the difference in those revenues can be traced to student fees: Georgia State receives more than $16.5 million compared with $5.6 million for an average Sun Belt school. Conversely, the average Sun Belt school received $1.5 million in game guarantees to GSU’s $440,500.

Benson and Levick have known each other for a long time, going back to when Levick was senior associate athletic director at Stanford (1988-2000) and Benson commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference. He said their discussions about the Sun Belt began after he went on the Barnhart and Durham show on 790AM last month and said that Georgia State wants to play football on the FBS level. He later said he didn’t have his facts straight about the Panthers. He called Levick to apologize, and that conversation drifted toward his plans for the Sun Belt and the future of FCS football.

The Sun Belt currently has 10 members, stretching from Florida to Texas. Benson said the existing members are a great foundation, but he would like to strengthen the conference’s geographic footprint and have enough schools to have divisional play in all sports. Traditionally, that has meant at least 12 members.

Before taking over the Sun Belt, Benson was commissioner of the WAC for 18 years. During that time, Boise State became a national power in football. He said he wants to eventually develop the Sun Belt’s version of the Broncos.

“The only reason that you add members, and the only reason that you get bigger, is to get better,”  he said. “Regardless of whether that’s 12 or 14 or whatever the number might be, this is about quality, rather than quantity.”

– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu.

64 comments Add your comment

Pennsylvania CAA Fan

March 29th, 2012
7:14 pm

Birds of a feather. I was crucified last time this was mentioned but I’d rather play in a league with better academic schools (if I was job hunting) but as you guys told me last time– hey its the south and about football.

CAA schools are much better schools…; all know that.

let the snarky comments begin –

Chicken Bone

March 29th, 2012
7:29 pm

@ Pennsylvania CAA fan, You mean the VAA??? lol

Timber GSU

March 29th, 2012
7:52 pm

Unfortunately Penn CAA Fan you’ll have a hard time having people identify with the CAA schools for the most part….on an athletic or academic level.

GSUAlumBaseball 81

March 29th, 2012
8:09 pm

Bye Bye FCS and hello BCS! Looking forward to closer away games in the SOUTH!!! GO GSU PANTHERS!!! Sorry about your luck GASO!!!

Panther Pride

March 29th, 2012
8:10 pm

Penn CAA you may be right that CAA schools are academically better but joining the Sun Belt would not lessen our own personal academic standards. Just like Vanderbilt is a part of the SEC. It makes more sense regionally and financially (because all of our sports teams have to continually pay to travel up north to play the CAA schools) for us to be a part of the Sun Belt IF we are invited. Also, our school will receive more exposure in being a part of FBS football and receiving bigger pay outs to play bigger games. Also, teams are more likely to travel to Atlanta to face a FBS school rather than an FCS. Actually, an FBS team would never travel to play an FCS schools.

GSU is in Atlanta

March 29th, 2012
8:33 pm

In other news, the Pope is Catholic.


March 29th, 2012
8:38 pm

I agree that CAA has better academic schools than the Sunbelt, but this is all about geography and FBS. I mean, who really wants to travel to Maine in November? There are a lot more schools I would travel to in the Sunbelt than the CAA. It’s just a better fit. Nothing against the CAA at all.


March 29th, 2012
8:39 pm

According to Benson, “potential is more important than tradition.” Case closed! It doesn’t matter that you’ve been playing for 30 years and won titles no one can really identify with. It’s all about your potential; in our case, those “natural assets” don’t hurt either. Now go tell that!!!


March 29th, 2012
8:47 pm

And yet we were delusional two years ago saying that. 5 year stay on the FCS level would be likely long enough.

“Potential is more important than tradition.”

Oh yeah, the CAA leveraged a Top 10 media market for a deal with NBCSports. You think Benson would not like to do the same? The Sun Belt does not have an existing contract. They do not have guaranteed bowl ties. Both are contingent.

If Georgia State levered a TV deal in FCS, imagine what they could help an FBS league to do. All about eyeballs.


March 29th, 2012
8:49 pm


March 29th, 2012
8:53 pm

Sunbelt here we come. Can’t wait to get started playing some local schools and packing the dome

Carl Patton

March 29th, 2012
11:23 pm



March 30th, 2012
1:20 am

College Football has become a complete joke when brand new schools get to start playing at the highest level b/c they’re in a big media market. I understand whey the SunBelt wants to get into the Atl, but honestly how many people in the Atl care about SunBelt Football?

The answer is NO ONE. People in the Atl care about the SEC mainly, and a few other conferences like the ACC, etc.

State might find that the Dome proves to be a Home Field Disadvantage when a road team brings more fans into their own building and makes it loud for them to hear.

See what would happen if you played Southern, the real GSU would out draw you in your own building. They did it to Wofford in the playoffs in 2010. I think Southern may travel better to road games that State does to home games.

Go Eagles!

[...] If he goes he still may have to sit out a year…GSU is looking to move up to FBS Benson and Levick have talked about GSU to Sun Belt | Georgia State Sports [...]

Georgia State Sports - Panther Roundup

March 30th, 2012
1:48 am

[...] hopes are heating up, as mutual interest between GSU and the Sun Belt is validated and a potential move is gaining national [...]


March 30th, 2012
2:00 am

Welcome Georgia southern fans. In about a year nobody will even remember who you are while we are playin at the highest level of football! Have fun over there!

[...] Benson and Levick have talked about GSU to Sun Belt Karl Benson said he has had several informal conversations with Georgia State athletic director Cheryl Levick about the Panthers possibly joining the Sun Belt Conference. Benson, commissioner of the conference, said no invitation has been issued, … Read more on Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Panther Pride

March 30th, 2012
7:27 am

S Paw 99….Jealous much??? I’m sure the same thing was said about South Florida 15yrs ago when they made the exact same moves as Georgia State is today and now look at them. It’s not about where you are or what you’ve been; it’s about what you could be and where you’re going. Obviously, the Eagles are going no where. You can blame it on the paper chase but stop whining, suck it up and accept reality. But remember you’ll always be the premier FCS school in the state of Georgia…if Kennessaw State doesn’t become a powerhouse


March 30th, 2012
8:50 am

I see a few Southern fans couldn’t resist the temptation to invade another school’s blog. What, they didn’t have enough room for you in the Savannah Morning News or something? A lot more folks pay attention to that paper than the AJC. Oh wait…

And the things being said about GSU not being able to pack the Dome was said by folks in Tampa when South Florida started up. I’m pretty sure that the FSU, Miami, and UF fans were laughing their hindparts off at the notion that some commuter school in downtown Tampa was going to have a football program. The same can be said in Orlando with Central Florida. Those fans aren’t laughing anymore.

Enjoy your time in FCS, Eagle fans. When GSU leaves to play in the big boy playpen in a few years, we will still keep you guys in mind when you’re trying to recruit against Kennesaw for FCS talent. We won’t forget those national titles you won, although it’s sort of like winning the WBO title now and claiming to be as good as Ali or Foreman was…

State of Atlanta

March 30th, 2012
10:22 am

State of Atlanta.

Blue Land

March 30th, 2012
10:59 am

Always think its humorous when people look at the present picture to determine what things will be 20 years from now. This is a great question to ask in a job interview when interviewing a potential candidate. How do you see yourself in 5, 10, or 20 years from now? Answer: “Exactly the same” To those who have no vision, do not fault those that do, for one day you may work for them if they are successful.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.” (Henry D. Thoreau)


March 30th, 2012
11:15 am


Youre so right. We should wait 30 years. ;)

[...] candidates to receive an invitation from the Sun Belt.”  Thursday brought the news that Georgia State athletic director Cheryl Levick and new Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson have had “informal conversations.”  AJC beat writer Doug Roberson also mentioned that [...]


March 30th, 2012
3:21 pm

Let’s do it. Do it.


March 30th, 2012
3:38 pm

yeaaaaaa!!!!! Hopefully Georgia will have its 3rd FBS program shortly….


March 30th, 2012
4:12 pm

And in other news, and as a harsh reminder that you guys might just better stay where you are, Mercer just defeated Utah State out in its hellish arena to win the CIT championship.

Since the AJC totally ignores Mercer most of the time, I can’t fault you folks for not knowing. Our success can be found in the NY Times, the Chicago Tribune and in other media outlets, yet not in our biggest state newspaper.


Has coach Hunter been suspended yet for a few games to start next season?

And finally, how many times are you guys going to switch conferences? This would make 3 in about a decade. Insecure or what?

Panther Pride

March 30th, 2012
5:26 pm

Phil, switching conferences three times in a decade and with each conference being better than the previous conference is not being insecure, it’s called being ambitious and not settling for where you are in life. Oh and congrats on being mentioned in Chicago and NY…that should go a long way in notoriety…no probably not…people in those places probably didn’t even read that portion of the papers.

Oh and let’s not forget that Mercer beat Tech also…maybe they should drop down from ACC basketball play…no they probably shouldn’t but thanks for playing Phil


March 30th, 2012
6:48 pm

I’m not going to knock Mercer for winning the CIT, congratulations, you deserved it. I believe that they played a lot stronger than the Panthers in the second round. With that being said, it doesn’t mean that the referee wasn’t out of line, but thats another story.

If GSU moves to FBS this quickly, surely that has to be some kind of record. I know UTSA and USA technically went straight to FBS, but i mean from building a program in the FCS to jumping up, in two years i’m not sure if it’s been done before.


March 30th, 2012
8:18 pm

I do not understand the economics of this. USF has been a success – but they did not have to compete with Fans of the SEC or ACC in the same city. (Or an hour away). They built a fan base and moved pretty fast up. However – they had a winning tradition almost from the start. Tulane may be a better example of what Georgia State is looking at. LSU is king in Louisiana. (UGA in GA). They have a been around….but still can hardly get 23,000 to a game.

App State has pursued moving to FBS….they may be close to it….but the finances are tuff. They have the fan support….and the Facility….but would need more corporate donors. Georgia Southern has looked at it, but they also don’t have the corporate/ big donors. Plus fan support is questionable if moving to a level like Sunbelt. Both of them are in a conference where the other teams are pretty close – and fans travel. The Panthers would be better off to compete with teams closer than Boston and DC.

Now the Sunbelt is not the highest level of College football. It is NOT a part of the BCS. It is part of the FBS. That is higher than FCS……but fans of the CAA have reason to be proud of that concerence….. The Sunbelt has a lot of former 1-aa (FCS) power houses…..and have not had the wining tradition since they left. (Troy may have done best of all of them…..but how many people outside of the Sunbelt know that.? )

Georgia State needs some more alumni or donors and more fan support. USF did it by winning a lot while moving up – and Georgia State will get better support when they win more games. Right now – a big source of revenue has come from the students. I guess that can be sustained as long as the students vote that fee in. However – paying $250 k to leave a conference and support FBS football seems wasteful…..unless they can get a good ROI. Not sure how long that would take….

Congrats to Mercer.

Panther Pride

March 30th, 2012
8:54 pm

South Florida actually wasn’t noticeably successful at FCS or FBS before moving into the Big East. Their main form of success came after they had entered the Big East conference. South Florida’s first four years in FCS saw a record of 27-17. Not bad, but not exceptionally great. Before they entered the Big East they had a record of 28-16. Once again, not bad but not great. They were a .500 team will in Conference USA. It’s not about the wins it is about the potential of your school.

Tulane is a poor example because it is a private school and does not have nearly the same enrollment as Georgia State and also that school made an effort to focus more on academics than athletics and it has shown in their school support for athletics.

Tampa Bay actually had and still has a HUGE Gator fan base. Tampa was a Gator city but that has changed with the addition of South Florida. The same can be said about UCF at Orlando which was big into Gator football. Georgia Southern and App State can’t make the jump because they do not have the same resources or position (big media market) as Georgia State has.

Also, alumni are willing to donate more to a school that is willing to make an effort to move up the ranks when it comes to collegiate athletics. Many alumni will not support a FCS school in the same way you support FBS. Also, the national/regional exposure you receive from being a part of FBS play. You also receive better talent and recruits and play a higher level of football which is more likely to garner attention from the casual fan than FCS quality games.

People think you need to build fan bases first but in truth, the fans come after they see you making strides in the right direction whether it be winning or moving up in conferences. Merchandise sells, media coverage and donations all increase when you move from FCS to FBS. That’s why financially it makes sense.

The only thing Georgia State has in common with Tulane is that it is in a city…and New Orleans is no where close to the size of Atlanta just like Tulane is no where close to the size of Georgia State.

Chicken Bone

March 30th, 2012
10:22 pm

The deal is Georgia State Panthers! Get off your $$$$$$$ and donate to GSU Athletics and make it happen! 100,000 ALUMS plus in Metro Atlanta. What the heck are you waiting on? I am tired hearing your pitiful opinions when you go to Starbucks and buy your $10.00 Lattes and go forward with your pitiful day! COME ON ATL and get off your dead arse’s and let’s make the 3rd D1 Athletics program ROCK, GO YOU BLUE PANTHER ATL SUPPORTERS. CRH will show you a basketball team in the ATL in THE NCAA in 2013!!!


March 30th, 2012
10:42 pm

Chicken Bone – on Monday, soon after you wake up, please contact a licensed mental health professional in your area and seek immediate therapy and counseling. It’s clearly necessary based on your 10:22….


March 30th, 2012
10:47 pm

Panther Prideless –

Each conference better than the other, eh.

Says who? What is it that makes a conference better than others? It’s a mostly silly exercise.

At the very least, please try to win a few football games against the lowliest of opponents before heading to the slaughter to be at your next stop.


March 30th, 2012
11:15 pm

@ Phil… please get a football team before you talk crap. Ok, bye.

Panther Pride

March 31st, 2012
5:41 am

Phil let’s think about this…which do media and college fans pay more attention to and are willing to shell out more money to see and also increases merchandise in being a part of, an FCS football conference or FBS football conference? Probably 95% of Americans (if not more) couldn’t tell you who won the FCS chapionship this past yr without having to look it up on the internet. And once again, winning football games is not a prerequisite for moving into a better conference. You receive better recruits and garner the interest of better talent as you move up the conference ranks. Will you take your lumps at first…of course but in the long run it is definitely worth it all around

True Blue

March 31st, 2012
10:24 am

I think we should move on! It would be nice to have some rivals closer to Atlanta rather than having to get on a plane for EVERY away game. Panther alums need to give and support the teams, these are GREAT student athletes…oh and by the way they are STILL student athletes!!! They still go to every class unlike some of our other instate schools. In all these comments there is little mentioned about the students….I am on campus and these students are GREAT!!!!!

What is the date for the payout penalty changes or increases to get out of CAA? I think it is $250,000 now, when does it go to $1 million?


March 31st, 2012
10:28 am

We can’t even beat Lambuth, why on earth are we talking about going to the FBS? I have personally told Levick I am pulling my donation to the school if they move up- plain and simple.


March 31st, 2012
12:42 pm

You guys would be wise to listen closely to GSU.

Stay put.

Appreciate what you have and achieve great things WHERE YOU ARE. Moving on constantly in search of the attention a UGA gets is silly. It’s not gonna happen for obvious reasons.

Curry is a fine man, by all accounts, but you’re gonna need new blood that can not only recruit but also put a TEAM together before long.

Lambuth….this is no time to move on.


March 31st, 2012
1:31 pm

Hey Phillis, I mean Phil, move on clown. You and the Southern faithful have no choice but to stay put. Have fun playing D II ball!!!


March 31st, 2012
1:32 pm

You say Lambuth, I say Newberry. Say it with me, NEWBERRY!

Carl Patton

March 31st, 2012
5:54 pm

More and more butt-hurt Georgia Southern fans, even those posing as Mercer fans.

This is the real reason I didn’t want football at Georgia State University.


March 31st, 2012
9:02 pm

I’m not posing as anything. Mercer 100 percent. A championship – winning program, by the way.

And we thank you for providing us with a plank upon which to step along the way.

Unlike your coach, your team did play and lose with class. I was impressed with them.


March 31st, 2012
9:03 pm

Fire Phillis!!

Carl Patton

March 31st, 2012
9:26 pm

Congrats on your championship, seriously.

I’m glad you posted it here, because I didn’t know who won until I read it here.

Then again, this is an Atlanta newspaper’s website…


March 31st, 2012
10:20 pm

Yes, it is an Atlanta newspaper.

But it is an extremely short- sighted one at that. Not one mention of Mercer being the first ever D-1 basketball team in this state to ever win a postseason tournament.

Keep in mind that this paper was founded by a Mercer graduate. Keep in mind that Mercer has an Atlanta campus. At any rate, enough about it for now.

I hope State continues to improve and grow in all sports. It would be good to continue our old rivalry with you guys. It would benefit both schools, whether the AJC gives a hoot ot not, or even understands that.


March 31st, 2012
10:27 pm

Google Reg Murphy – Mercer University and Jack Tarver.

See for yourselves.


March 31st, 2012
10:30 pm

I misspoke on the founder of the AJC – i’m no genius – but those gentlemen played important roles at times.


April 1st, 2012
12:17 am

S’Paw_99: “They did it to Wofford in the playoffs in 2010″ WOW. southern got more people to a game than wofford? wow…. by the way, who’s wofford?

Pennsylvania CAA fan

April 1st, 2012
7:53 am

Seems as if everyone in GA is about getting respect. I only follow this site to listen to the Southern people and now Mercer. I have a better idea. Start a second paper. Perhaps you could find a CAA graduate (see first post :) ) to help you out.

In any event many of your replies make sense from a football standpoint– closer games etc. From an academic standpoint I still think it is better for all the students to graduate from a better academic conference. I know the CAA isn’t Ivy League but it isnt the Sunbelt either. In honor of GSU I am (seriously) going to the URI game in OCT. I have a GSU shirt that I will wear for you guys.

Incidentally I am going to the game on the way up to Brown for a campus visit for one of my kids.

GSU staffer

April 1st, 2012
9:50 am

Penn fan, I hear what you are saying. There are some great schools in the CAA, but as a GSU employee, I know that many of us are working to improve the status of the university without much regard to what is going on in athletics. The university is moving agressively on the goals of its new stratetic plan. Our success in building our teaching, research, and service programs will make the difference in the end. So, if the Brown thing doesn’t work out, you might want to head to Atlanta and let your kids see what a great university (academically and otherwise) Georgia State has become.

And, congratulations to Mercer.