Quotes From Karl Benson's Sun Belt Intro Presser
Quotes From Karl Benson's Sun Belt Intro Presser
“Thank you very much Chancellor Hawkins and good afternoon everyone. I appreciate that you all have taken the time to participate in today’s teleconference. I’m truly honored to have been selected to lead the Sun Belt Conference and thank the Sun Belt presidents and chancellors for having the confidence and trust for placing me in this position.
While this may be a time of uncertainty in the college sports landscape, the Sun Belt is well positioned to take advantage of this uncertainty. Because of the leadership of the current and former presidents and chancellors, athletic directors and Wright Waters, the Sun Belt Conference is a different conference than it was five years ago, and even more different conference than ten years ago. As Chancellor Hawkins stated, the academic characteristics of the Sun Belt have improved tremendously. Its graduation rate and incoming freshman ACT/SAT scores for the general student population and even more for the student-athlete population have increased dramatically.
Athletic characteristics have too improved, as new stadiums and arenas are being built, fan attendance at contests has risen, operating budgets are getting larger, more contests are being televised, and teams in all sports – men and women – are winning games and gaining national attention.
The demographics of the 11 Sun Belt members have too changed and are changing each year in a positive way. Three Sun Belt members have student enrollment of over 30,000, three have enrollment of over 25,000, and alumni figures are growing as well. Sun Belt fans have rallied around their alma maters as gifts to the athletics departments are increasing. This is a time of tremendous growth in the Sun Belt with a tremendous upside and I’m looking forward to providing the leadership to these coming years for the Sun Belt to maximize this great potential.”
Question and Answer Session
On future plans as far as adding teams to the conference…
“Again as we settle in and look at the potential and looking at the future of membership is an important one. The Sun Belt currently has ten football-playing schools and one non-football-playing school in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Without getting specific in terms of numbers, I think that there’s an advantage to getting to at least 12 to take advantage of additional post season opportunities. Know that in the coming weeks, the Sun Belt board will establish a committee that will look to evaluate the current membership and the future membership. Chancellor Hawkins mentioned the Sun Belt footprint in terms of geography and how conducive that is for the student-athletes from a travel standpoint, a participation standpoint, and fan travel. The Sun Belt footprint also provides a pool of possible numbers that are already in that footprint: current FBS members, as well as FCS members that have indicated interest in perhaps in moving to FBS. Again it will be a very important piece in the coming months.”
On what is attractive for current members to remain in the Sun Belt…
“The fact that there has been Sun Belt members mentioned as part of the Conference USA-Mountain West merger is a testament to the program growth that the Sun Belt individual institutions have made along with the Sun Belt as a conference in general. The Sun Belt has established itself as a credible, as a bona fide Division I BCS conference. I think that we hope to be able to demonstrate in the coming weeks that the future is bright for the Sun Belt that in light of the changes that have occurred in Conference USA, in the Mountain West, in the WAC, that the Sun Belt position in terms of the hierarchy of the so-called non-AQ conferences has increased tremendously, and the opportunity for the Sun Belt to succeed in a manner that will provide the current membership with greater bowl opportunities, with greater television opportunities, with greater revenue opportunities that we will be able to demonstrate that the Sun Belt is on par with any other of the non-BCS conferences.”
On handling teams currently in the WAC…
“One of the reasons that we are trying to move my position with the Sun Belt earlier than later is to address that exactly. This is a time of uncertainty and there are many moving parts with the Conference USA-Mountain West merger ongoing and the announcement they made on Monday that they are now officially moving toward that. I know that the WAC board of directors has met a couple of times to establish a transition period, a transition plan, and I will expect that they will be making an announcement soon regarding that.”
On how he’s approaching potentially adding teams from the WAC to the Sun Belt…
“Right now I’m focusing on the 10 football playing members of the Sun Belt along with the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and focusing on how to make the Sun Belt a stronger conference, a more attractive conference and once I officially move into the chair, into the position, there will be a transition period where Wright [Waters] and I will be working together in the Sun Belt office. At that time I will then focus on the bigger picture. It’s not the first time a commissioner moving from one conference to the other. There may be sensitivity and perhaps some awkwardness. I think everyone understands that once you change positions that you are now responsible and obligated to that conference. I will certainly do that with the Sun Belt.
On what leaving the WAC means on a personal level…
“I was privileged to serve the WAC for 18 years and enjoy many successes, and I look not to take that that to the next stage in my career to the Sun Belt to create new experiences and new successes. I had the privilege of being on the sidelines three times for a BCS game with a WAC team, and now I’m looking forward to being on a BCS sideline with a Sun Belt team. I look forward to putting the Sun Belt hat on and use the experiences I’ve had in the 22 years that I’ve been a Division I conference commissioner at the MAC and the 18 at the WAC and provide that experience to the Sun Belt, again in this time of tremendous opportunity and growth for the Sun Belt.”
Re: Quotes From Karl Benson's Sun Belt Intro Presser
"This is a special day for me to kind of officially – even though it’s not official for a couple more weeks – to be in this venue, to be around the members and the important members of the media that are here today that cover the Sun Belt on a regular basis. The last month has been a whirlwind. I interviewed with the Sun Belt CEOs on Jan. 25 in Atlanta. As I walked out of the room that day, I knew that there was something there. It was real. It’s a job that I didn’t necessarily chase; it wasn’t a job that I necessarily really went after, but it was a job that came to me, and sometimes those are the best jobs - when two parties get together and discuss ideas and a vision. You walk away and you say, “Click.” That day in Atlanta, it clicked. And it clicked because of the ten CEOs that day who demonstrated a commitment, a willingness to get better, and a willingness to take advantage of the current landscape and the current environment that has been so unsettling over the course of the last 12 to 18 months. I think it’s safe to say that out of the 11 BCS Conferences, that I think the Sun Belt Conference is the only conference in the last year that has not had any change. Every other conference has had change. The stability of the Sun Belt was something that was very interesting to me, and the ability to grow a conference without having to deal with perhaps changes. However, if there are changes, the other thing that was appealing was the number of schools that were in that footprint that are possible new members of the Sun Belt. Chancellor Hawkins mentioned the possibility of expanding; it’s a real possibility yet it’s one that we need to do from a deliberate standpoint. You get bigger to get better. You don’t just get bigger for the sake of adding one, two, three or four schools. You do it to because it adds value. I think the Sun Belt is in a great position to take advantage of some of this uncertainty, but at the same time the core member institutions provide a great, great foundation. As many of you know, the last 15 years I’ve dealt with a lot of change. I’m prepared to deal with change if necessary, but ideally it is to be able to have these 11 institutions that were around the table this morning – we spent two hours this morning with the CEOs – we talked about the future of the Sun Belt. To get 11 CEOs to come together on a Saturday morning to talk about the future, it demonstrates the commitment of the presidents and athletics directors. I see many of you in the room today and I appreciate your support over the course of the last month. You’re an integral part to this process. I’ve always said that I work for the presidents but I work with the athletic directors. You all play a big role and will play a big role for the future of this conference. It goes right down to the faculty reps, the senior woman administrators, the coaches, and especially the student-athletes. We can’t forget the role that the student-athletes play. It is a pleasure to be here. I mentioned yesterday that as I landed in Little Rock, I’ve now been in all 50 states. This was the last state on my big map. I accomplished Arkansas, and I look forward to returning many times. As Jack said, what a great little secret. Today, I looked at some of the history of Hot Springs. It is somewhat ironic that a conference on the rise is located in a place that has so much history, and so much sports history. Spring training was established here back in 1910. I found pictures of Babe Ruth, that he played 54 holes of golf at Hot Springs Country Club and went back to the hotel to do his mineral baths and whatever. This is a unique spot. The facility is great. The two courts – I was wondering how that would work but it’s well-done. A compliment to Wright and the entire Sun Belt staff for creating a tournament atmosphere that really is a collegiate tournament atmosphere. I’ll stop there. I know we have a game that starts at the top of the hour and we want to make sure that we let the media get back to cover that.”
On any potential threat of schools leaving the Sun Belt…
“I think there’s always going to be threats. One of my goals over the course of the next 30-60 days, and it started today, was the CEO meeting and talking about the benefits of being a member of the Sun Belt and what the Sun Belt can provide and what the value, the benefits of the existing membership can satisfy all of their existing needs under the Sun Belt banner. We need to really identify that and communicate that back on the 11 campuses that the Sun Belt, as it exists today, is a powerful organization and one that has – and I’ve said this many times the past couple weeks – five years ago there was a hierarchy of the Mountain West, the WAC, Conference USA, the Sun Belt and then the Mid-American and Sun Belt. That was the hierarchy – and we’re talking football – that gap today has shrunk considerably and there’s not a lot of difference between the 10 football-playing members of the Sun Belt and the membership of the WAC or Mountain West or Conference USA or Mid-American. Regardless of this Conference USA-Mountain West potential merger, I like the position that the Sun Belt is in.”
On whether any Sun Belt schools would potentially join the Mountain West-Conference USA merger..
“I think the fact that whether it’s a North Texas or it’s a Florida International, or Florida Atlantic or Troy or Western Kentucky or any that are being mentioned, it’s a compliment to the growth that these institutions have had. I certainly have seen a number of institutions that have gotten better under the WAC umbrella and that have moved on. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with that. I’ve always said that when teams join the WAC they get better. When teams join the Sun Belt, they’re going to get better. They’re going to take advantage of all of the assets and all of the resources that the conference has. It’s unfortunately, in this world and in this environment in college sports, there’s upward mobility whether it’s with coaches, presidents move from school A to school B, athletic directors move, commissioners move, so it’s kind of a natural part of the college sports landscape.”
On how to balance growing basketball with growing football…
“The presidents and the chancellors today talked about men’s basketball and how critical it is to the future of the Sun Belt and be able to return to multiple bids in the NCAA Tournament, and teams that get into the NCAA Tournament win games. That is critical. As much as football has grown, you can’t lose sight of how important basketball is. As we begin March Madness, for the next month now it will be constantly talked about, the conference ranking and how many teams get into the NCAA Tournament and they start listing the teams and the number of bids, the Sun Belt needs to get back to that multiple-bid level. There’s a lot of money involved, it’s growing and we need to take advantage of that. I think that will be an initiative. I know that in the past couple of years the conference has looked at standards and benchmarks and scheduling requirements, we can’t lose site of that basketball piece.”
On moving timeline up to start March 15..
“It’s awkward. I’m in a position where I’m managing the affairs of the Western Athletic Conference while at the same time looking at and focusing and planning for the future of the Sun Belt. I do have a corporate duty and a corporate responsibility to the WAC as long as I’m the commissioner of the WAC. The sooner I can sever ties with the WAC and devote all of attention and all of energies and all of my corporate duty to the Sun Belt would be in the best interest of both the Sun Belt and the WAC.
On Denver leaving the Sun Belt for the WAC..
“I’m happy for the University of Denver. They have landed in a place that is more geographically connected to them. The Sun Belt has been great for the University of Denver and the University of Denver has been great for the Sun Belt. I know Chancellor [Robert] Coombe and Peg [Bradley-Doppes] and the entire University of Denver staff has been a good 10-year spot for the University of Denver.”
On adding a non-football school vs. a football-only school to the Sun Belt..
“I do think that balance needs to be addressed. Eleven members on the basketball schedule is not the ideal number. As we look at expansion, we need to look at the basketball piece. UALR has been a valued member of the Sun Belt for many, many years and we need to protect that and take advantage of the success they have had in Sun Belt sports. As we go down the road of future membership – whether it’s basketball-only to balance it – obviously the University of Denver was the team to balance UALR. On one hand we look at the football side that at the end of the day, whatever the final number is, there needs to be some balance.”