Here is what a merger means between the Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA

Illustration by Roe | The Signal

For the last four months, COVID-19 paused sports entirely. And although professional sports are set to come back, collegiate athletics have not been able to say the same. 

The pandemic is wreaking havoc on the sports world, and college football in particular is already feeling the effects. Some small programs are shutting down, such as Morehouse College’s, which ended its program for the foreseeable future last month. 

Their loss is on a growing list of the financial impacts many small and mid-major conferences are facing. Now, those schools must consider some radical ways to ensure they can still play in the upcoming season. 

A popular option would be a merger between Conference USA and the Sun Belt Conference. 

While the idea itself is not new, the urgency of such a proposal is now being taken seriously by fans of both conferences. Both have an abundance of teams, but they also have varying levels of talent and success.

The Sun Belt is undeniably a better conference. They boast successful programs such as the Appalachian State Mountaineers in football and the Georgia State Panthers in basketball. 

Roy Moore of 247Sports is familiar with talks of a merger.

“A possible merger has been rumored for a long time now,” Moore said. “The idea of a merger is nothing new.”

On paper, the proposal to merge both conferences makes a lot of sense. Both mid-major conferences have strong programs in football and basketball. As a result, the two could benefit from better access to top-tier bowl games and more bids for the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

Currently, both conferences are relegated to one bid each in their conference, and bowl-wise are subject to terrible slots. Appalachian State, which was ranked No. 20 nationally, received a bowl date before Christmas; a merger could put them in a better spot. 

With all of this in mind, a merger sounds great and could really help Georgia State, but don’t hold your breath.

As great as the idea might sound, a conference merger is quite complex. The biggest issue is, of course, money. In particular, C-USA does not have as much program funding as the Sun Belt. 

On top of funding, teams in East Coast states, like Georgia State and Coastal Carolina, would also be harmed through travel costs, which come out of the school’s pockets and are not funded by the NCAA. A young Panthers football team is one of the many that would struggle with the odd and long schedule of traveling. 

Conference USA is one of the many smaller conferences to ask the NCAA for aid and it underscores a huge issue. The conference’s geography causes many teams to travel far to play each other. Even after landing a new television deal in 2018, they still lost money. 

The Sun Belt is nowhere near the level of the Atlantic Coast Conference or the Southeastern Conference in terms of revenue. By no means is the Sun Belt rich, but merging with C-USA would possibly make both lose revenue. 

“No way the conference merges and splits up less money,” Moore said. “The Sun Belt gets paid more per school than C-USA does.” 

Considering how much harm financial harm the coronavirus has already done to athletic programs, merging for less money would be a terrible idea. C-USA has been so unstable that some want to blow it up altogether.

Such an unstable environment should be a red flag for anyone thinking about a merger. Georgia State has just found its footing in the conference; merging with another conference would put all its progress in jeopardy. 

However, there is a better solution for both parties involved. 

Rather, there should be more games between the two conferences. Especially for regional games, it makes more sense and reduces travel costs. Moreover, it could create more rivalries amongst programs, leading to higher fan interest. 

Recently Georgia State scheduled a series against the UAB Blazers. The Panthers have also agreed to play the Charlotte 49ers, a C-USA standout.

“A scheduling agreement makes a lot more sense,” Moore said. “Teams can travel by bus, and Georgia State has the right idea of scheduling UAB and Charlotte.” 

Overall, a merger between the Sun Belt and C-USA will not lead to good results. While the move makes sense on paper, finances are not on the side of C-USA. With many teams spread across a wide radius, it would make travel costs high, and with COVID-19 still easily spreading, creates a cost that neither conference needs.