Ag­gies to rep­re­sent Sun Belt last time

Af­ter Ari­zona Bowl ap­pear­ance, they be­come an in­de­pen­dent

Albuquerque Journal - - SPORTS - BY JA­SON GROVES LAS CRUCES SUN-NEWS

LAS CRUCES — It was a re­la­tion­ship born out of ne­ces­sity.

New Mex­ico State’s four-year foot­ball-only mem­ber­ship with the Sun Belt Con­fer­ence of­fi­cially ends in June, but the Ag­gies will end their re­la­tion­ship on the field with the league Dec. 29 as the league’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the Ari­zona Bowl.

“We would have loved to stay (in the Sun Belt) and we weren’t over­joyed with how the non­vote was made,” NMSU ath­let­ics direc­tor Mario Moc­cia said. “At the end of the day, a de­ci­sion was made and we have to live with it. We think we have a great (in­de­pen­dent foot­ball) sched­ule for 2018 and we want to keep our op­tions open. Maybe some­day the Sun Belt or another con­fer­ence wants us. We will proudly rep­re­sent the Sun Belt and hope­fully get a win in a bowl game.”

For­mer NMSU ath­letic direc­tor McKin­ley Bos­ton used a long-stand­ing re­la­tion­ship with for­mer West­ern Ath­letic Con­fer­ence and cur­rent Sun Belt com­mis­sioner Karl Ben­son to find a tem­po­rary home in the Sun Belt af­ter the WAC dis­solved as a foot­ball con­fer­ence in 2012.

In March 2016, Ben­son an­nounced there would be no vote by league Pres­i­dents and that the 2017 sea­son would be the last in the league for foot­bal­lonly mem­bers New Mex­ico State and Idaho.

Idaho won the Idaho Potato Bowl last sea­son and the Ag­gies look to fin­ish with a bowl vic­tory as well al­though NMSU will pro­ceed as an in­de­pen­dent foot­ball pro­gram and Idaho will play FCS foot­ball.

“Once those pre­sen­ta­tions were con­ducted and com­pleted, the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee con­ducted a call to ex­change in­for­ma­tion and share notes, and the four had con­ver­sa­tions with peers around the league to get what the tem­per­a­ture was,” Ben­son said in 2016. “At that time, it did not ap­pear that the votes were there, so to speak, to

ex­tend.”

The Ag­gies were com­ing off an in­de­pen­dent sea­son in 2013 so the part­ner­ship made sense at the time, even if the Sun Belt held all of the cards. The Sun Belt with­held $270,000 in dis­tri­bu­tion money in the first two years as a buy-in for mem­ber­ship.

Now the Ag­gies will re­ceive a full dis­tri­bu­tion from the league as well as a $250,000 dis­tri­bu­tion for mak­ing a bowl game and a $150,000 travel al­lowance in ad­di­tion to 50 per­cent of the rev­enue from tick­ets NMSU sells. The school as of late Wed­nes­day had sold 4,276 tick­ets, which are priced at $25, $50 and $65.

“The Sun Belt has been a great stop for us,” Ag­gies head foot­ball coach Doug Martin said. “I don’t know if it was ever in­tended to be a long-range home but it helped us in sev­eral ar­eas. I told play­ers that ev­ery Satur­day, we go out there as an in­de­pen­dent and it’s us against the world. Ev­ery week we play well, we are au­di­tion­ing for another con­fer­ence.”

De­spite the dis­plea­sure of Ag­gies fans to­ward the Sun Belt, the Ag­gies are play­ing in one of the league’s five bowl games. Not hav­ing those tie-ins as a con­fer­ence mem­ber is among the chal­lenges the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion must ne­go­ti­ate over the fore­see­able fu­ture as a FBS in­de­pen­dent.

“It’s in­cum­bent on us to cul­ti­vate re­la­tion­ships with bowl di­rec­tors,” Moc­cia said. “I think the bowls that make sense for us ge­o­graph­i­cally, we need to see if we can be writ­ten into an agree­ment if New Mex­ico State qual­i­fies.

“We have been so busy try­ing to fi­nal­ize sched­ules and all of that so we haven’t re­ally thought about bowls. That will be the next it­er­a­tion.”

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