Aggies to represent Sun Belt last time
After Arizona Bowl appearance, they become an independent
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
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.”