Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson confirmed on Friday he will meet with Georgia State President Mark Becker and athletic director Cheryl Levick on Monday in Atlanta to discuss the possibility of membership in his conference.
Timing may be critical because the Colonial Athletic Association, Georgia State’s home since 2005, is expected to vote on Tuesday to increase its exit fees from $250,000 to $1 million.
Should Georgia State accept an invitation, it will likely have to forfeit any revenue-sharing agreements with the CAA for the upcoming season. That could mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars. It may also have to forfeit the chance to participate in any of the conference’s tournaments in 2012-13.
There also will be an entry fee to the Sun Belt, which Benson said is in the process of being changed.
Georgia State’s athletic department has been exploring a move 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 was well-positioned to move to the Sun Belt from a budgetary standpoint, according to the feasibility 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.
Discussions have been in the works since February, after Benson went on the Barnhart and Durham show on 790AM 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.
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.
The Sun Belt currently has 10 members. 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.
– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu