Sun Belt football pays off for ULM
MONROE, La. – Sun Belt Conference football is on the rise and the proof is in the payout.
The Sun Belt is set to receive $17.2 million from the College Football Playoff, third among the Group of Five conferences behind the Mountain West ($20.4 million) and the American Athletic Conference ($18.8 million) and ahead of Conference USA ($15.6 million) and the Mid-American Conference ($14 million).
“We were very close, just scant points behind second and not that far behind first,” ULM interim athletics director Scott McDonald said. “In fact, we were closer to first than we were to fourth.
“As we’ve moved past the Mid-American Conference and Conference USA clearly, we continue to improve. Our standing as a Sun Belt Conference, we’re clearly playing much more competitive football than those other conferences.”
ULM, a charter member of the football conference since its inception in 2001, is one of 10 member schools who will receive a share.
“Your payoff is distributed based on your standing as a conference and then the conference distributes that to the football playing schools,” McDonald said. “In this case, 10 teams in the Sun Belt Conference will receive the payoff from the College Football Playoff.”
While ULM does anticipate the annual windfall when preparing a budget, this year’s payout will be higher than expected.
“We budget basically where we were the past year, kind of conservatively,” McDonald said. “So when it comes in and we’re above that, those are additional monies that we can use in the athletic department.”
According to a recent article in The Winston-Salem Journal, the Group of Five is getting $86 million from the College Football Playoff this season, about $70 million of which will be divided evenly amount the five leagues. The remaining $16 million is dispersed based off of performance rankings by the six computer polls formerly used by the Bowl Championship Series.
The averages of those rankings determined the pecking order of the payout; 1. Mountain West (78.167); 2. American (80.139); 3. Sun Belt (83.083); 4. C-USA (91.262); 5. MAC (92.986).
Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson, who is retiring June 30 after seven years with the conference, shared his thoughts in an e-mail to officials at member schools.
“The success the Sun Belt has achieved these past three years has clearly shown that the Sun Belt has indeed ‘risen’ above our two peer conferences – C-USA and MAC,” Benson wrote. “And that we are well positioned to now compete for our ultimate goal of being the #1 ranked G5 conference – with the highest ranked champion and a berth in one of the New Year’s Day Bowl Games.
“And this past year has now shown that we are indeed in striking distance of achieving those goals.”
The Sun Belt had the best non-conference record (24-20) of Group of Five conferences. It was also the best overall nonconference record in Sun Belt history.
“Our third place rank can be heavily attributed to our overall non-conference winning percentage of 24-20 – highest ever achieved by the Sun Belt and the best of the G5 conferences this season,” Benson wrote. “And this can be attributed by the scheduling strategies you have adopted in limiting the number of non-conference games played against the P5 conferences – 10 overall this past season which is the lowest of the G5 conferences.”
The Sun Belt went 3-2 in 2018 bowl games and produced six bowl-eligible teams in Appalachian State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Troy, Georgia Southern, Arkansas State and ULM. The Warhawks did not receive a bowl invitation.
App State, Georgia Southern and Troy each had 10 or more wins. Troy posted the Sun Belt’s signature non-conference win by beating Nebraska early in the season.
Over the past three seasons, Sun Belt teams are 11-5 in bowl games.
The Sun Belt also held the inaugural conference championship game in December, with Appalachian State beating Louisiana-Lafayette, 30-19. The Mountaineers earned a national ranking during the regular season and nearly beat Penn State.
“The quality of football and the quality of schools in the Sun Belt, the quality that’s played in these other sports, we’re in a great conference,” McDonald said. “Not only that, we’re in one of the few conferences that geographically makes sense. These other conferences, you look at them and teams are traveling thousands of miles to play. I know financially it’s not good for them, and they’re not even playing at the same level that we’re playing at in the Sun Belt Conference. This conference has been great for us geographically and competitively.”
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