With a growing national profile in both football and men’s basketball, Coastal Carolina University has attracted the attention of the Sun Belt Conference as the league with a footprint throughout the southeast considers further expansion.
Chanticleers athletic director Matt Hogue confirmed Thursday that the Sun Belt had initiated contact with the university in recent weeks and that dialogue is ongoing between the two sides, but he tempered the depth of those talks.
“We’ve been contacted and we’ve had some discussion and that’s really the extent at this point,” Hogue said. “That’s where we are. We can acknowledge that they have contacted us, and certainly our stance has always been we would explore any opportunities that are presented to us.”
Coastal Carolina President David DeCenzo was unavailable for comment.
The Daily Advertiser newspaper in Lafayette, Louisiana, first reported that Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson had identified Eastern Kentucky and Coastal Carolina as two schools the conference has had talks with regarding potential future membership.
“I think Eastern Kentucky has been public in declaring their interest in moving up to FBS. I think that Coastal Carolina has not made that public statement,” Benson said, according to The Daily Advertiser. “So has Eastern Kentucky contacted the Sun Belt? Yes. Have we had conversation with Coastal Carolina and others? Yes. That’s about all I can say.”
Coastal Carolina became an original charter member of the Big South Conference in 1983 and has grown with the league, debuting football in 2003 and becoming a perennial contender in recent years in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision.
The Sun Belt is a Football Bowl Subdivision conference, which is a level up from the FCS. The league recently added former FCS powers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, both previously of the Southern Conference, in 2014.
Unlike Big South rival Liberty, though, Coastal Carolina has not publicly stated a desire to move up to the FBS level and Hogue did not let on how seriously the Chants are considering such a jump.
“I think you always have an idea of how you would approach it, but certainly if there would be any further discussion or serious discussion we’d have to take a look at a more crystallized plan,” he said. “I think at this point we don’t want to speculate along those lines. I think you just take it for what it is right now, which is discussions.”
Hogue said it was anywhere from a couple weeks to a month ago when the Sun Belt initiated contact with the university.
“They did initiate the contact. We’ve really just kind of been trading information,” he said. “We’re learning a little about them and they’re learning about us.”
The Sun Belt has 11 football-playing members, including football-only members New Mexico State and Idaho. It also includes Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas-Arlington, which don’t play football, giving it 11 members for most other sports as well.
The rest of those 11 full-fledged members, including aforementioned Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, are Arkansas State, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama, Texas State and Troy.
According to The Daily Advertiser, Benson said the conference’s focus in regard to potential expansion should be directed less toward football considerations and more toward basketball and other sports so two East/West divisions can be created for travel purposes, and Appalachian State, located in Boone, N.C., is currently lacking an obvious geographical partner.
Coastal Carolina, meanwhile, is coming off three straight FCS playoff appearances, including reaching the third round of the bracket each of the last two years before losing to eventual national champion North Dakota State.
The Chants’ men’s basketball team has reached the NCAA tournament each of the last two seasons, and for what it’s worth, coach Cliff Ellis used to coach at South Alabama.
The Chants are also perennial national players in baseball, having reached the NCAA Regionals in 13 of the last 15 seasons, and men’s soccer, while boasting programs in track and field/cross country, men’s and women’s golf, softball and volleyball that perennially compete for Big South championships.
Again, Coastal Carolina has expressed in the past a desire to explore possibilities of potentially moving to a larger conference, and if the university decides to make that jump it would need to increase its football stadium capacity to meet the NCAA's FBS standard of an average paid or actual home attendance of at least 15,000 once every two years. Coastal Carolina's Brooks Stadium currently has a capacity of around 9,400, which the Chants still struggle to fill at times. The school would also take on additional travel costs for all of it's athletics teams with such a move to a more spread out conference.
There are a number of considerations that must go into such a decision.
While Coastal Carolina’s total enrollment was up to 9,976 students as of last fall, five full-fledged Sun Belt members boast enrollments of at least 20,000 students, according to the most recent available data provided by the schools. Those are Texas State (more than 36,000), Texas-Arlington (34,870), George State (32,000), Georgia Southern (20,517) and Troy (20,000).
The Big South is set to host its annual football media day next week in Atlanta. In the meantime, Big South commissioner Kyle Kallander responded to a request for comment with a brief statement.
“We are aware of the conversation and monitoring the situation,” he said.