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May 29, 2012The sentiment has echoed through much of Hilltopper Nation in the months of April and May.
"Florida International and North Texas left us for Conference USA, and now we're (WKU) getting the shaft, stuck in the Sun Belt."
Whether Conference USA will remain a full notch above the Sun Belt is debatable in itself. The impact from the departures of Memphis, Central Florida, Houston, and SMU, cannot be overstated.
But for now, here are several reasons why the Sun Belt Conference is making the right moves by adding Georgia State, UT-Arlington, and Texas State-and why WKU is positioned well for the future.
One of the well-known reasons behind the conference realignment race is television revenue. Conferences are adding universities in large media market cities hoping to bring additional TV contract money-thus more guaranteed revenue-to their schools.
The Nielson Company, a global advertising research company, provides a yearly list of all the media markets in the United States, ranking them by size.
Out of the 210 media markets in the 2012 rankings, Bowling Green (WKU) sits near the bottom at No. 182.
This is why both FIU (Miami-Ft. Lauderdale) and North Texas (Dallas-Ft. Worth) find themselves in Conference USA, after C-USA lost its Dallas-Ft. Worth and Orlando markets with the departures of SMU and UCF, while the Hilltoppers are left at the altar.
Consider this: Both Idaho and New Mexico State are struggling just to find a conference to call home right now (after the collapse of the WAC)...And their markets are ranked No. 73 and 91 respectively.
Below you'll see what markets the Sun Belt conference lost and gained with the departures and new additions.
2011-2012 Nielson Rankings (No. shows national ranking)
The addition of the Atlanta market gives the Sun Belt a large presence in Georgia, while Texas State gives the conference another market in the Lone Star state outside of the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
The only big difference here is the drop-off from Denver's market to Texas State's. But with Denver's exit, the conference has a much more natural geographic footprint, sticking to schools in the south.
Some Sun Belt fans have voiced concerns that the conference is making moves strictly for football and media markets, at the loss of quality basketball programs.
In the first column below, you'll find the RPI averages from each school the last three years in the Sun Belt Conference. In the second column, the schools that are leaving were removed (FIU, UNT, Denver,) and the new schools were added (UT-Arlington, Georgia State, Texas State.)
Three year RPI Averages: 2010-2012
At first glance, it looks damaging that the conference will lose two of its top three RPI ranked teams (from the last 3 years.)
But when looking at the conference average at the bottom, you see that the Sun Belt's average RPI barely changes.
Obviously, these numbers would have to be adjusted for the schedule changes (Ex: WKU playing Georgia State twice in a season instead of FIU.)
But the end result would be the same. Barring a blazing run through its schedule, a la 2012 Murray State, WKU will still need to win the post-season Sun Belt tournament in most seasons to earn a NCAA tournament bid.
One school that could become a basketball rival for WKU in the new Sun Belt is UT-Arlington.
The Mavericks opened their new $78 million College Park Center in February, a 7,000 seat double decker arena which also features a large jumbotron.
But UT-Arlington isn't just using their new arena for show. In 2012, they finished with a record of 23-8, going 16-2 in the Southland conference.
In fact, the RPI ranked the Mavericks in 2012 at No. 110 nationally, behind only MTSU (56) and Denver (93) from the Sun Belt.
North Texas RPI in 2012? 198.
The Bottom Line:
Regardless of conference changes, media markets, and RPI numbers, WKU looks poised to make a big run over the next few years in the collegiate sports world.
Try this for a fun debate: Who should be WKU's 2011-2012 Coach of the Year?
Here are just a few nominees, in no particular order.
Willie Taggart-Led the football team to its best season record as a FBS member at 7-5, narrowly missing an invitation to the first postseason bowl game in school history.
Ray Harper-Led the basketball team on its rollercoaster postseason run through the Sun Belt tournament, eventually losing to national champion Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Erik Jenkins-Led the men's cross-country/track and field programs to the first Sun Belt Triple Crown in conference history, by winning the team championships in cross-country, indoor, and outdoor track all in the same school year.
Travis Hudson-Led the volleyball team to the program's first Division 1 Coaches Poll Top 25 ranking, and a best in school history 31-4 record.
So don't fret too much about the changing college landscape, Hilltopper fans.
Because as coach Ray Harper said on Feb. 25, after beating rival Middle Tennessee 73-67 in front of a sold-out Diddle Arena crowd
It looks like WKU has only "just begun."
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