June 08, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) The Sun Belt Conference's inaugural football championship game in 2018 most likely will be held at the home field of one of the qualifying teams, league commissioner Karl Benson said.

''We have great fan bases. We have some great facilities within the Sun Belt that we think could and would showcase Sun Belt football,'' Benson said Wednesday. ''So I think, in the early stages, the route that we will take will be on one of our campuses.''

The Sun Belt was expected to announce the formation of a conference title game ever since the NCAA earlier this year approved a measure allowing conferences with fewer than 12 teams to hold a championship football game.

On Wednesday, Benson and Sun Belt President Denise Trauth - who is also the president of conference member Texas State - made it official on a teleconference.

Still in question is the format for deciding the two participants.

Benson said the league, which will have 10 football members in 2018, could split into five-team divisions, or the Sun Belt could play a full round-robin schedule - meaning nine conference games - and have the teams with the top two conference records square off.

Benson said that if the league splits into divisions, teams likely would play eight conference games and schedule four non-conference opponents each season. If, however, the league does not create divisions, the new NCAA rules would require every conference team to meet in order to decide the top two.

Even if the league splits into divisions, Benson added, the league could still opt to mandate that its teams play nine league games.

Benson said there are no plans to further expand the league, saying 10 ''is the right number (of football teams) for the Sun Belt.''

''It now allows us to shrink our boundaries and maximize the geography,'' Benson said.

Football-only members Idaho and New Mexico State are departing the conference after 2017, while Coastal Carolina is moving up from the Football Championship Subdivision to join the Sun Belt. However, Coastal Carolina will not be eligible for postseason play during its transition year in 2017, which is why the Sun Belt decided not to host its inaugural title game until 2018.

At that point, the 10 member football teams will be located in seven Southern states: Alabama (South Alabama and Troy), Arkansas (Arkansas State), Georgia (Georgia Southern and Georgia State), Louisiana (Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe), North Carolina (Appalachian State), South Carolina (Coastal Carolina) and Texas (Texas State).

''The fall of 2018 really is the new era, so to speak, for Sun Belt football,'' Benson said.

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AP College Football: http://collegefootball.ap.org

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