Conference realignment grades: Sun Belt adds 2 FCS titans, 2 WAC evacuees


Monday, SB Nation reported the Sun Belt is bringing on FCS greats Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, while CBS Sports reported Idaho and New Mexico State are joining as well.

Any time a college conference picks up four schools in a single day, it would be ideal to give each addition a careful portion of consideration. But this shopping spree is basically two purchases, not four, so it makes sense to look at the foursome in pairs.

Georgia Southern and Appalachian State: A

Considering the Sun Belt's realistic prospects, this duo is as good as it gets. The two most successful programs in FCS history (nine combined national titles since 1985) offer perhaps the Sun Belt's best rivalry from Day 1, legit football fan support all around (App State already outdraws the Sun Belt average, while Southern's close to it with a stadium expansion on the way) and geographic fits that make future rivalries more likely and don't create any travel strains.

While Boone and Statesboro won't do much for the TV market side of things, the Sun Belt's priorities right now are survival and creating a solid football league that fills up bowls and competes for that guaranteed BCS 2.0 mid-major automatic bid.

Still, as far as local interest goes, the Sun Belt could've done no better here. And having more programs in football-mad Georgia than any other D1 conference can't hurt.

A no-brainer.

Idaho and New Mexico State: D

And this is the move you don't want to have to make.

The Sun Belt needed to get to 12 schools in order to hold a future championship game, which for most leagues means stealing a glint of spotlight from the weekend usually headlined by the SEC's title game. Adding these two WAC evacuees puts the conference on pace for 12 by 2015, so long as nobody steals another school. As FBS currently stands, there were technically no other options.

However, neither of these two will ever win anything significant at the FBS level, and there's a reason they were the last two off the WAC raft. NMSU is in one of the nation's most football talent-strapped states, and it isn't even the biggest school in that state, plus its rival gets to use games against Boise State and other regionally noteworthy Mountain West teams in recruiting. Speaking of Boise State, Idaho is very much not Boise State.

Idaho and New Mexico State have combined for one winning season in the last decade, and the future is not necessarily any brighter. On the attendance front, both App State and GSU outdraw both Idaho and NMSU, and those are based on games against inferior and superior competition, respectively.

And besides all that, it's a 39-hour drive from Moscow, Idaho to Statesboro, Georgia. Idaho is 1,400 miles from NMSU, which is itself eight hours from Texas State. The Big East showed you should think twice about sprawling across a continent in order to land a program from Idaho, and that was the good program from Idaho.

As a football fan, I'm happy to see the Vandals and Aggies have found homes, thanks to old pal and former WAC commissioner Karl Benson. But their additions to the Sun Belt go against the market in every way. While a case can be made that Georgia Southern and Appalachian State were among the very few recent call-ups who actually did belong at the FBS level, it's hard to argue Idaho and New Mexico State should stay there.

The only argument I can see for picking up the two WAC stowaways is that the Sun Belt would prefer a little FBS experience to bringing on four FCS schools all at once. While James Madison, Delaware and others (assuming they or someone else would've been willing to make the leap) would've been preferable on the field and in fan support, Idaho and NMSU do offer a history at the FBS level.

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