Karl Benson named new Sun Belt Conference commissioner

NEW ORLEANS (Sun Belt) – Karl Benson has been named the fifth commissioner in Sun Belt Conference history as announced on Thursday, February 16.

Benson's term as commissioner will begin on April 1, 2012.  He replaces outgoing commissioner Wright Waters, who announced his retirement last October.  Waters has served as the Sun Belt's commissioner since December, 1998 and will formally step down on June 30, 2012.

"Academically, athletically and financially the Sun Belt Conference has never been stronger.  Moreover, our geographic footprint in the southern United States fosters rivalries, saves dollars for our programs and makes sense for our fans," said Sun Belt Conference and Troy University President Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr. "We are grateful to Commissioner Wright Waters for his outstanding leadership over the past twelve years and we are delighted to announce the appointment of Karl Benson as our new commissioner. In choosing Commissioner Benson as our new commissioner, we have hired a leader who has a clear vision for the future direction of our league. I am convinced our best days lie ahead of us."

"First, I would like to thank the Sun Belt Conference Board of Presidents and Chancellors for giving me this exceptional opportunity to work with them and the fine institutions of the Sun Belt Conference," said Benson.   "Further, I would like to acknowledge that without Wright Waters' leadership over the last 13 years, the Sun Belt Conference would not be where it is today.  I strongly believe that the Sun Belt is a conference of rising prowess and recent history has shown that the Sun Belt is headed in a very positive direction.  The pieces are in place for this league to be among the most competitive conferences in the nation.  I look forward to helping with the continued momentum of the Sun Belt Conference."

Benson comes to the Sun Belt after serving as the commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference since 1994.

During his time at the WAC, Benson developed numerous multi-year agreements with postseason football games, including the Holiday Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Copper Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, Silicon Valley Football Classic, GMAC Bowl, New Mexico Bowl, the Humanitarian Bowl, Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl, Poinsettia Bowl and Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Under Benson's leadership, the WAC achieved noted success by sending multiple teams to Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games as well as having sent a total of 38 teams to bowl games since 2001.  In men's basketball, the WAC has sent at least two teams to the NCAA Tournament in 24 of the past 28 seasons.

Benson served on the NCAA Management Council from 1999-2002 and a five-year term on the NCAA Men's Basketball Committee from 2002-06.

Prior to his time at the WAC, Benson served as the commissioner of the Mid-American Conference for four years.  There, he implemented several innovative projects and was instrumental in the formation of the Las Vegas Bowl.

Prior to taking the reins of the MAC, Benson served on the NCAA staff for more than four years where he was the director of NCAA championships when selected as MAC commissioner.

Benson joined the NCAA staff in January 1986, as a compliance representative and was appointed assistant director of championships in June 1987.  He was promoted to director of championships in 1988.  In that position, Benson actively supervised eight assistant directors in their administration of 68 NCAA championships.

A native of the state of Washington, Benson graduated from high school in Pullman in 1970, attended Spokane Falls Community College and then received a bachelor of science degree in physical education from Boise State University in 1975.  He has also completed course work toward his master's degree in athletics administration at the University of Utah.

Benson played baseball at both Spokane Falls Community College and Boise State University before serving as the baseball coach at Fort Steilacoom Community College in Tacoma, Wash., for eight years and as the director of athletics at Fort Steilacoom from 1979-84.  From 1984-86, he was an assistant baseball coach and an administrative assistant in the athletics department at Utah.

He received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Boise State in April of 2006.

Benson was born on December 1, 1951 and has one daughter, Jessie, 20, a sophomore at the University of Southern California - majoring in broadcast journalism in the Annenberg School of Communication.

In addition to Waters and now Benson, three others have served as the Sun Belt's Commissioner: Vic Bubas (1976-1990), Jim Lessig (1990-1991) and Craig Thompson (1991-1998).

What they are saying about Karl Benson

Paul Hoolahan, Chief Executive Officer of the Allstate Sugar Bowl

"On behalf of the Sugar Bowl Committee, I'm pleased to welcome Karl to New Orleans.  I've known Karl for years and have watched his strong and effective leadership as a commissioner, first at the Mid-American Conference and most recently at the Western Athletic Conference.  Karl is a good friend who carries with him the great respect of his peers, and there is no doubt he will continue to make a difference in the world of collegiate athletics as the Commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference."

Mike Slive, Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference

"I have worked with Karl for more than 20 years and have always admired his work under trying circumstances.  His extensive experience and energy will benefit the Sun Belt and build on the outstanding legacy left to him by Wright Waters."

Burke Magnus, ESPN Senior Vice President of College Programming

"Karl Benson has been a great partner and friend to ESPN during his years at the WAC and we are thrilled to be able to continue this collaboration in his new role at the Sun Belt Conference.  Karl is a skilled, experienced and creative administrator and we look forward to working with him to grow our partnership with the Sun Belt.  The conference is in great hands with Karl leading the way."

V. Lane Rawlins, President of the University of North Texas

"I have known Karl for more than a decade and I have great respect for him.  As we conducted this search, I touched base with a number of people who have worked with him or closely observed him over the years.  Their observations confirmed mine, which are, in summary:  Karl Benson is a man of highest integrity, unusual candor and exceptional managerial ability.  I believe that the Sun Belt Conference is very fortunate to attract a man with this level of experience, established trust within collegiate athletics, and strength of character."

Dean Lee, Director of Athletics at Arkansas State University

"Karl instantly brings a wealth of national experience to the commissioner's position for the Sun Belt.  He is one of the most seasoned veterans to ever sit in the commissioner's chair at the BCS level, which can't be anything but a tremendous positive for our future.  The accomplishments of the WAC under his leadership have been unprecedented.  The WAC sent multiple teams to BCS games and to the NCAA basketball tournament during his tenure, and he also has proven success in his ability to negotiate bowl games and television agreements.   He will bring great vision to the Sun Belt and will prove to be the perfect asset as we continue to advance this conference."

Robert Lawless, President Emeritus of the University of Tulsa

"Karl Benson is an experienced commissioner.  He has had experience putting together conferences and has had great experience in the NCAA, most notably being involved in the NCAA Men's Basketball Committee.  He has all the characteristics of leading the Sun Belt Conference towards a bright future."

Employment History

2012 - : Commissioner, Sun Belt Conference

1994-2012: Commissioner, Western Athletic Conference

1990-1994: Commissioner, Mid-American Conference

1986-1990: Director of Championships/Compliance Representative, NCAA

1984-1986: Assistant Baseball Coach/Assistant to the Director of Athletics, University of Utah

1976-1984: Head Baseball Coach /Director of Athletics, Fort Steilacoom Community College

1974-1976: Assistant Baseball Coach, Boise State University

Current Sun Belt Conference Membership

Arkansas State

Arkansas-Little Rock (non-football)

Denver (non-football – departing July 1, 2012)

Florida Atlantic

Florida International



Middle Tennessee

North Texas

South Alabama (begins FBS football competition in Fall 2012)


Western Kentucky