The Sun Belt Conference is changing its structure in football.
The conference will be splitting into a pair of five-team divisions beginning in 2018, with the division champions meeting for a conference championship game at the home stadium of the team with the better College Football Playoff ranking.
Coastal Carolina, which is moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision level and joining the Sun Belt this upcoming season, will be in the East Division along with Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Troy.
The West Division will consist of Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama and Texas State.
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The conference announced the change Tuesday at the conclusion its annual spring meetings in Point Clear, Ala.
“I like the divisions,” CCU Director of Athletics Matt Hogue said. “It lines up a clear matchup for the championship game and helps build and strengthen the rivalries within the division.”
I like the divisions. It lines up a clear matchup for the championship game and helps build and strengthen the rivalries within the division.
CCU Director of Athletics Matt Hogue
Appalachian State and Arkansas State had to share the Sun Belt Conference football title last season after both teams finished with 7-1 league records, and the league will continue without divisions or a championship game in 2017.
Current Sun Belt football members Idaho and New Mexico State will be leaving the conference after the 2017 academic year.
Hogue said the move to divisions also gives the conference flexibility with scheduling while creating the championship game.
“NCAA rules governing championship games for conferences allow for a divisional matchup if a league does not play a full round robin schedule,” Hogue said. “Since the plan was to continue the current eight-game conference schedule it worked hand in hand with a divisional alignment.”
The Sun Belt sent a league-record six teams to bowls in 2016 and the conference’s 4-2 record gave it the highest winning percentage among the so-called “Group of Five” conferences.
Sun Belt administrators also approved a collaborative instant replay system for football that will be modeled after the Southeastern Conference’s setup with officials in a central location to review replays and assist instant replay officials at each game.
Sun Belt Football Divisions in 2018