The Sun Belt is in big trouble.
After the first 23 home games, 8 out of the 9 Sun Belt 1-A football schools are meeting the 15,000 average in actual attendance, including Louisiana-Monroe, which averaged 8,700 last year but is now getting the necessary fan support despite a 1-6 record. Idaho is the only one who doesn't average 15K. The conference as a whole is averaging 18-19,000 per game. Utah State leads the conference with a 22,000 average and drew 26,000 last weekend. Because of the improved attendance, I feel better about the SBC than I did before the start of the season.
That doesn't mean that it is safe and secure. We are still getting beaten regularly out of conference and that has to improve. The only good showings vs. BCS competition was an Arkansas State 26-11 loss to Texas A&M and a Middle Tennessee 41-40 loss to Missouri, which I believe was ranked at the time. Troy State, who joins the league in 2004, defeated Marshall at home.
Judge the Sun Belt from now through the rest of the season because we're largely playing each other, and see how the league champion fares in the New Orleans Bowl.
The future is up to the fans. I don't think the better teams can count on an exciting new conference affiliation to rescue them from the SBC. Personally I think the Mountain West will pluck Boise State, Fresno State, and Hawaii, and the private schools in the Eastern WAC will go to Conference USA. The Sun Belt's best hope for a secure future is if Louisiana Tech, UTEP, Nevada, and San Jose State wind up without a conference home and join forces with us. That would give us either 13 or 14 with the addition of Troy State (depending on whether Louisiana-Monroe joins us in all sports and Idaho makes it), enabling us to break up into divisions.
If the Sun Belt survives in football, I think it's entirely possible that the non-football playing schools will get tired of the travel expenses put upon them to accomodate football and either join or form a non-football league with basketball and baseball as its points of emphasis.
What the SBC needs as much or more than football success is basketball success. I feel the real
revenue sport for us has declined the past 10 years and that must be reversed. We have to get to a level where we can get at least two bids to the NCAA Tournament. This hasn't happened since 1994.