Georgia State has accepted an invitation to join the Sun Belt Conference, a person inside the conference with knowledge of the situation said on Saturday. They will become members in 2013.
Georgia State declined to comment. The university was contacting donors on Saturday, asking them to attend a special event at 2 p.m. Monday at the Georgia Dome.
Timing might be critical because the Colonial Athletic Association, Georgia State’s home since 2005, is expected to vote Tuesday to increase its exit fees from $250,000 to $1 million. An email to the CAA, asking if Georgia State has resigned, hasn’t been answered.
Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson confirmed 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.
The decision to leave the CAA, considered one of the best mid-major conferences in basketball and a power in FCS football, is driven mostly by money, both revenues and expenses. Sun Belt teams play football on the FBS, or bowl, level, which have the potential to generate more money for GSU because of bowl sharing and the potential of guaranteed games, compared to the CAA.
As members of the CAA, Georgia State also repeatedly expressed concern with the missed class time and travel expenses for basketball and its non-revenue sports. The CAA stretches from Atlanta to Maine in football, and Atlanta to Boston in basketball. The Sun Belt has 10 football-playing members, stretching from Texas to Florida. That regional familiarity has been a selling point for Georgia State’s fans.
There may be more additions to the Sun Belt. Benson announced in February, when he was hired, that his conference was looking to expand. He said they preferred schools that play on the FBS level.
However, he said in March that Georgia State’s potential as a top-10 media market with leadership devoted to athletics caused him to reconsider.
Georgia State now must submit an application to the NCAA a notice to reclassify, along with an application, strategic plan and philosophy statement, as well as pay a $5,000 fee. The NCAA’s annual deadline for receiving such packages is June 1, with a required postmark by May 25.
Georgia State 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. It may also have to forfeit the chance to participate in any of the conference’s tournaments. There also will be a $300,000 entry fee to join the Sun Belt.
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 also 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.
The move has 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.
The decision brings Georgia State back to where it started. It was a charter member of the Sun Belt in 1976. Georgia State left to join the Trans America Athletic Conference in 1981. That conference eventually changed its name to the Atlantic Sun. Georgia State left it to join the CAA in 2005.
– Doug Roberson, AJC