The Sun Belt Conference (SBC) is a group of college sports teams that play each other on the NCAA Division I level. The conference was formed in 1976, and started playing football in 2001. All 14 full members (those playing most of their sports in the league) play football in the top-level Division I FBS. The conference's full members are scattered through the southern United States.
Members[change | change source]
- Georgia State left the SBC in 1981 and returned in 2013.
- Old Dominion left the SBC in 1991 and returned in 2022.
Associate members[change | change source]
At different times, the SBC has had "associate members" that play only a few sports, usually one, in the league. As of the 2022–23 school year, it has three associate members, all in men's soccer, a sport that the SBC resumed playing after a one-year absence.
Most associate members in league history no longer compete in the SBC. The first school to abandon single-sport membership was Utah State, which played Sun Belt football in 2003 and 2004 before joining the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in 2005. The Aggies have been members of the Mountain West Conference since 2013.
Idaho and New Mexico State were involved in the league at two different times. New Mexico State first joined the Sun Belt as a full member in 2000, and brought its football team into the Sun Belt the next year. Also in 2001, Idaho joined only for football. Both left in 2005 to join the WAC. During the early 2010s, NCAA Division I went through a major phase of conference changes, with most leagues gaining or losing multiple members. The WAC was one of the most affected conferences, going through a nearly complete membership turnover that left Idaho and New Mexico State as the league's only football schools. In 2014, both placed their football programs in the Sun Belt. The conference announced in 2016 that its agreements for Idaho and New Mexico State to play football in the league would not be renewed when they ended after the 2017 season.
NJIT (the New Jersey Institute of Technology) was another victim of this realignment; it was forced to become an independent (not in a conference) when its former league, the Great West Conference, collapsed. Its men's soccer team joined the Sun Belt in 2014, a year before the school found a home in the ASUN Conference. Although the ASUN sponsors men's soccer, NJIT kept that team in the Sun Belt until 2016, honoring its two-year contract to play in that league.
Another recent change involved Hartwick, which had long competed in Division I men's soccer despite otherwise being in NCAA Division III. In 2018, Hartwick aligned completely with Division III, moving its men's soccer team to its full-time home of the Empire 8.
A more recent change came in 2021, when the Sun Belt shut down its men's soccer league after it dropped below the number of members needed to keep the automatic berth its champion received in the NCAA tournament. However, conference realignment would lead to the return of men's soccer after a single season.
Of the four schools that were announced as new members in 2021, three sponsor men's soccer—James Madison, Marshall, and Old Dominion. All were originally intended to join the SBC in 2023. With current members Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, and Georgia State also fielding men's soccer teams, the SBC announced it would reinstate men's soccer in 2023. However, the return of men's soccer would be moved forward to 2022 after the expansion plan changed. The revived SBC men's soccer league includes Kentucky, South Carolina, and West Virginia as single-sport members. SBC men's soccer will add another member in 2023 with the arrival of UCF, which will leave the American Athletic Conference (which runs a men's soccer league) for the Big 12 Conference (which does not). UCF's move will unite its men's soccer team with that of West Virginia, the only other current Big 12 member with a men's soccer team.
Current[change | change source]
|Nickname||Joining||SBC sport||Primary conference|
|University of Kentucky||Lexington, Kentucky||1865||Public||Wildcats||2022||Men's soccer||SEC|
|University of South Carolina||Columbia, South Carolina||1801||Public||Gamecocks||2022||Men's soccer||SEC|
|West Virginia University||Morgantown, West Virginia||1867||Public||Mountaineers||2022||Men's soccer||Big 12|
Future[change | change source]
|Nickname||Joining||SBC sport||Primary conference|
|University of Central Florida (UCF)||Orlando, Florida||1963||Public||Knights||2023||Men's soccer||Big 12[a]|
Former[change | change source]
|Nickname||Joined||Left||SBC sport||Current conference|
in former SBC sport[b]
|University of Central Arkansas||Conway, Arkansas||1907||Public||Bears[c]||2019||2021||Men's soccer||ASUN|
|Hartwick College||Oneonta, New York||1797||Private||Hawks||2014||2018||Men's soccer||Empire 8|
|Howard University||Washington, D.C.||1867||Private||Bison||2014||2018||Men's soccer||Northeast|
|University of Idaho||Moscow, Idaho||1889||Public||Vandals||2001
|New Mexico State University||Las Cruces, New Mexico||1888||Public||Aggies||2014[d]||2018||Football||FBS independent|
(Conference USA in 2023)
|New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT)||Newark, New Jersey||1881||Public||Highlanders||2014||2016||Men's soccer||America East[e]|
|Utah State University||Logan, Utah||1888||Public||Aggies||2003||2005||Football||Mountain West|
- UCF is now a member of the American Athletic Conference, but will join the Big 12 at the same time it moves men's soccer to the SBC.
- In all cases except Howard and New Mexico State, this matches the school's main affiliation. Howard is a full member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, including FCS football. New Mexico State is a full member of the Western Athletic Conference, which added FCS football in fall 2021; however, NMSU continues to play as an FBS independent.
- Central Arkansas uses "Sugar Bears" as the nickname for its women's sports teams, but no UCA women's team was ever a Sun Belt member.
- New Mexico State joined the Sun Belt as a full member in 2000, and brought its football team into the league the next year. NMSU left the conference in 2005.
- NJIT initially left for its then-current all-sports home of the ASUN Conference. It joined the America East Conference in 2020.
References[change | change source]
- "Sun Belt Conference". sunbeltsports.org. Retrieved 2022-08-27.
- "Sun Belt Football to Be 10 Teams in 2018" (Press release). Sun Belt Conference. March 1, 2016. Retrieved March 1, 2016.