Georgia State may try on the Sun Belt, and soon

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Georgia State is going places. In more ways than one, and more quickly than many had hoped.

The hiring of Ron Hunter as the school’s basketball coach paid immediate dividends. The Panthers – members of the Colonial Athletic Association since 2005 – racked up their best league record ever, finishing 11-7 and playing in the CIT to cap off a 22-win season. The football team, started in 2010 under the auspices of former Georgia Tech head man Bill Curry, has managed a couple of up-and-down seasons, but that hasn’t stopped the Georgia State brass from pursuing a move to FBS status as soon as possible.

And therein lies the rub. The CAA is one of the finest FCS leagues around, but that isn’t going to cut it for a Curry-led football program. We long-suffering hoops fans have it graven on our hearts by now: football is driving the bus, and basketball goes along for the ride. As such, the CAA simply won’t do, my good man.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting that football aspirations might lead to a bang-bang transition to the upper echelon, for one big reason: money. Of course. The math gets a bit complicated, however.

From the AJC:

Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson confirmed on Friday he will meet with Georgia State President Mark Becker and athletic director Cheryl Levick on Monday in Atlanta to discuss the possibility of membership in his conference.

Timing may be critical because the Colonial Athletic Association, Georgia State’s home since 2005, is expected to vote on Tuesday to increase its exit fees from $250,000 to $1 million.

Should Georgia State accept an invitation, it will likely have to forfeit any revenue-sharing agreements with the CAA for the upcoming season. That could mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars. It may also have to forfeit the chance to participate in any of the conference’s tournaments in 2012-13.

There also will be an entry fee to the Sun Belt, which Benson said is in the process of being changed.

Obviously, the move is being considered in light of the long-term financial ramifications of big-time football (caveat: in the Sun Belt), and yet no commish is going to leave money on the table if he can help it. Let the bean counters figure out if the exit fee is greater than the entry fee (which might be waived) is greater than the potential lost revenue from next year’s CAA deals.

For basketball fans, the potential breakup of the current CAA, which is facing long-rumored raids from the A-10 as well as the Sun Belt, is a sad thing. The Colonial has become one of the most interesting mid-major leagues in the nation, as well as one of the most lethal in the postseason. Hunter’s brand of tough, physical defense made the Panthers an instant player in the CAA, which has long been dominated by Virginia-based schools George Mason, VCU and Old Dominion.

Say it ain’t so, Shoeless Ron.