Sun Belt: UT Arlington a perfect fit

05/23/2012 1:54 PM

08/29/2012 2:18 AM

Sun Belt Conference officials said today that UT Arlington's growth potential and its place in the Dallas-Fort Worth media market made it an immediate target for inclusion in the conference when spots became available through the defections of North Texas and Florida International.

UTA administrators are expected to formally accept an invitation Thursday, pending approval from the University of Texas Board of Regents, and begin competing in the Sun Belt beginning July 1, 2013.

School officials have scheduled a news conference Thursday afternoon to discuss its future conference realignment.

"UT Arlington ... has been on our list from the very beginning," said Karl Benson, commissioner of the Sun Belt and commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference when UTA accepted an invitation to join that alliance a year ago.

"The strengths of UT Arlington are the same strengths that I recognized a year ago."

Those include the school's new College Park Center, which, Benson said, "is changing the culture of the university."

UTA will become the 12th member, and second nonfootball playing member, in the new Sun Belt. The Mavericks' 15 men's and women's sports teams will compete for a year in the WAC. The university officially becomes a member of that conference in July.

Its strengths do not include a football program. That UTA has not had a football program since 1985 had no bearing on whether an invitation would be extended, Benson said.

The conference will compete in two divisions of six teams for all sports, except football because it has only 10 football-playing members, a fact that precludes the conference from having a championship football game. Arkansas-Little Rock also doesn't play football.

Benson emphasized that a championship game is of no concern to member schools at this time.

Jack Hawkins, chancellor of Troy University and president of the Sun Belt's executive committee, said the conference will not expand beyond 12 teams, though that could change in today's ever-changing conference landscape.

"We've accomplished our goal," Hawkins said. "Our goal is to add value to our conference by inviting universities with strong academic and athletic programs that fit our profile and geographic footprint.

"UT Arlington meets these criteria."

UTA will join Texas State and Georgia State as new members, replacing North Texas and Florida International, which left the conference for Conference USA, and Denver, also a nonfootball playing member, which left for the WAC.

With Texas State and UTA, the Sun Belt continues to stretch from the Lone Star State to Florida. It will also have two distinct geographic divisions, which will make traveling easier, and more cost effective, officials said.

"There is no expectation regarding the possibility of adding football," Benson said of UTA. "We know that it is something that is on their list to consider and if and when they go down that path, I'm sure the Sun Belt would welcome that.

"Their qualities and a number of assets stand alone without even looking at the football piece."

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