The Sun Belt Conference has made strides in the college football landscape. The proof is in its share of money from the College Football Playoff.
According to a source close to the Sun Belt, the conference will receive $17.2 million for the 2018 football season, which is the third-highest figure among the Group of Five conferences. The Mountain West will receive the highest amount with $20.4 million, followed by the American Athletic Conference with $18.8 million.
The Sun Belt’s share is about $2 million higher than Conference USA ($15.6 million) and more than $3 million higher than the Mid-American Conference ($14 million).
The Sun Belt has received the third-highest G5 payout in two of the past three seasons, according to the source. The first of which came after the 2016 season. When contacted by the Journal, Commissioner Karl Benson of the Sun Belt confirmed the conference’s amount.
“It’s public information, and it’s information that is relevant,” Benson said. “I think it clearly demonstrates that Sun Belt football is trending upwards and has established itself as a very credible and viable conference in major college football.”
Benson is set to retire on June 30, ending his seven-year tenure leading the conference.
The Sun Belt will disperse the CFP money evenly among its member schools. Athletics departments can use that money for anything, such as increasing assistant coach salary pools or balancing Title IX obligations.
The Group of Five is getting $86 million from the College Football Playoff this season, about $70 million of which will be divided evenly amount the five leagues. The remaining $16 million is dispersed based off of performance rankings by the six computer polls formerly used by the Bowl Championship Series — Anderson & Hester, Billingsley Report, Colley Matrix, Massey College Football Ratings, Sagarin Ratings, and Wolfe.
The averages of those rankings determine the pecking order of payout.
Those average rankings consider the entire regular season as well as bowl performances. The Sun Belt had the best nonconference record (24-20) of Group of Five conferences. It was also the best overall nonconference record in Sun Belt history.
That mark was aided, as Benson mentioned in his news conference before the Sun Belt Championship game between Appalachian State and Louisiana, by the conference’s existence as a 10-team league in 2018. New Mexico State and Idaho left the conference after last season.
The Sun Belt also went 3-2 in 2018 bowl games, which included Appalachian State’s dominant 45-13 win against Middle Tennessee State in the New Orleans Bowl. The Sun Belt had six bowl eligible teams — App State, Louisiana, Troy, Georgia Southern, Arkansas State and UL Monroe. The Warhawks didn’t appear in a bowl this season.
In comparison, C-USA sent six teams to bowl games, going 4-2. The Mountain West sent six as well, going 3-2 along with the cancellation of the Boston College-Boise State game in the First Responder Bowl.
The AAC went 2-5, and the MAC went 1-5.
The Sun Belt Conference is 11-5 in bowl games during the last three seasons. That stretch includes three straight bowl victories by the Mountaineers in the 2016 Camellia Bowl (31-28 versus Toledo), the 2017 Dollar General Bowl (34-0 versus Toledo) and the recent New Orleans Bowl.
App State, Georgia Southern and Troy — all members of the Sun Belt’s East Division — each had 10 or more wins. Those teams made up three of the top 10 Group of Five teams ranked by the computer polls.
The Sun Belt also held the inaugural conference championship game last month, a 30-19 win for Appalachian against Louisiana.
The Journal obtained an email sent to Sun Belt member schools’ chancellors and athletics directors from Benson. In the note, Benson pointed out that the financial outcome also means the schools with football programs will also receive an additional bonus in July following year-end reviews.
“The success the Sun Belt has achieved these past three years has clearly shown that the Sun Belt has indeed ‘risen’ above our two peer conferences — CUSA and MAC,” Benson wrote. “ And that we are well positioned to now compete for our ultimate goal of being the #1 ranked G5 conference — with the highest ranked champion and a berth in one of the New Year’s Day Bowl Games.