DALLAS – The Sun Belt Conference will pause its previously announced men’s basketball strategic plan as additional data and information are reviewed to more effectively determine how to best improve postseason opportunities.
The decision was made Monday by the Sun Belt’s Presidents and Chancellors as part of their annual Spring Meeting with a number of additional topics also discussed.
The NCAA’s NET ranking, introduced this past season as a tool for the selection of men’s basketball teams into the NCAA Tournament, was a primary reason for the decision. Data that led to the creation of a new scheduling model for the conference was based on the former selection tool, the RPI. A pause in implementing this scheduling approach will allow the Sun Belt to more closely examine NET data to determine the most effective format for the league’s men’s basketball schedule going forward.
“Given the heightened importance we are placing on men’s basketball and after an in-depth analysis of how to improve the quality and strength of our scheduling, we have come to the conclusion that the pod schedule format should not be our highest priority at this time,” said Sun Belt and Georgia State University President Dr. Mark Becker.
In addition to the reevaluation of the conference schedule, the Sun Belt is considering concepts to schedule more non-conference games against Quadrant 1 or 2 opponents that have a positive impact on the NET for its teams and the conference as a whole. These new initiatives may include regular season scheduling agreements with other conferences and a requirement for creating non-conference schedules which exceed a predetermined NET threshold.
“The Sun Belt’s goal is to be a conference that earns multiple NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bids,” said Sun Belt Commissioner Keith Gill. “By the actions today, Sun Belt presidents and chancellors demonstrated that they are committed to an approach that will result in better men’s basketball postseason outcomes.”
For the 2019-20 season, the conference will continue its mirror schedule for men’s and women’s basketball. However, the men will play a 20-game schedule, while the women will play an 18-game schedule.
It was noted that 2018-19 was a successful men’s basketball season as a number of significant achievements took place. There was a three-spot improvement in the Sun Belt’s conference RPI ranking and four Sun Belt teams qualified for the postseason, tying the conference record.
A number of other topics were covered in the meeting of the CEOs.
Success in women’s basketball was also discussed as 2018-19 saw a nine-spot improvement in conference RPI ranking and a record number of teams in the postseason with seven participants. The group made a point that it is committed to success in women’s basketball and will continue the conversation regarding strategies for its improvement.
Academic Support and Progress
Overall, the group continued to express that it is of the upmost importance that student-athletes receive an educational experience that contributes to their personal well-being and will help them be successful after graduation. The Sun Belt annually awards nearly $70 million in student-athlete financial aid – an increase of 130% from five years ago.
The group discussed that in 2020, a portion of NCAA Division I revenue will be distributed to qualifying members based on academic achievement. Institutions that meet standards in Academic Progress Rate, Graduation Success Rate or Federal Graduation Rate will earn an academic unit and much attention was paid to the importance of earning the unit.
Sun Belt Faculty Athletic Representatives will forward strategies for maintaining or improving the standards to the CEOs. The FARs will also suggest areas for investment that could improve academic outcomes.
Review of NCAA Reports and Legislations
NCAA Division I Council, Forum and Board of Directors reports were discussed and the group spent a majority of their time discussing the Sun Belt’s commitment to enhance diversity and inclusion in coaching and administrative positions and representation in the governance structure.
The recommendations of the Commission on College Basketball and the application of academic misconduct legislation were topics of discussion.
In addition, the CEOs reviewed the report from the Ad Hoc Committee on Sports Wagering, recent contributions and areas of emphasis from the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the establishment of the NCAA’s name, image and likeness working group.
Diversity and Inclusion
The group reviewed the Sun Belt’s recent Diversity and Inclusion Summit and demographic data for the conference. The group recognized that the data indicated there is more work to be done to meet the conference’s goals for diversity and inclusion.
The Sun Belt and its member institutions have tasked themselves with finding opportunities to create policies that will help increase diversity.
Sun Belt Football
This season is College Football’s 150th Anniversary and the conference noted the outstanding achievements that have occurred throughout the history of Sun Belt football. These accomplishments will be celebrated throughout the season and sparked conversation about the investments necessary to continue success in football.
The Sun Belt finished the past season with a record total of non-conference wins and the most non-conference wins of any Group of Five Conference.
Sun Belt institutions noted the importance of investing in their football programs and recognized efforts to upgrade facilities, improve health, training and conditioning programs, expand academic services,
grow community involvement and enhance fan experiences.
The state of the College Football Playoff was discussed, but there was little conversation regarding expanding the format at this time.
Louisiana President Dr. Joe Savoie will begin a two-year term as conference president and Arkansas State President Dr. Kelly Damphousse will serve as the league’s Vice President.
In addition to Savoie and Damphousse, Georgia State President Dr. Mark Becker, Texas State President Dr. Denise Trauth and South Alabama President Dr. Tony Waldrop will serve on the Sun Belt’s Executive Committee during the 2019-20 academic year.