NEW ORLEANS, LA (Sun Belt) – Idaho and New Mexico State have accepted invitations to join the Sun Belt Conference as football members and will compete their first season in 2014. The Sun Belt Conference announced the additions on Wednesday evening.
With the previously announced additions of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern on Wednesday, the additions of these two institutions as football only members now gives the Sun Belt Conference a lineup of 12 football playing institutions and 12 all sports members.
"Bringing Idaho and New Mexico State back for football gives our league stability without compromising quality," said Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., Chancellor of Troy University and President of the Sun Belt Conference Executive Committee. "These are outstanding institutions with strong leadership and I join my fellow presidents and chancellors in welcoming them home to the Sun Belt Conference."
Idaho and New Mexico State are familiar partners of the Sun Belt Conference, having been football members from the league's inaugural year of football in 2001 through the 2004 season. Both members played an integral part of forming the Sun Belt Conference for football and now add strength to the league. Having reached the 12 team mark, the Sun Belt Conference can now play a football championship game should it choose to do so. Both teams will be immediately eligible to compete for the Sun Belt football championship and also for a spot in postseason bowl games.
"The additions of Idaho and New Mexico State marks a significant moment for the Sun Belt Conference," said Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson. "The administrators from our league have been working hard and taking the initiative for the conference to continue its expansion during a time where national realignment has been extensive. Having these two FBS programs join the league will give us two teams that are instantly ready to compete for a bowl bid and also gives us the ability to host a conference football championship game should we choose to so."
The University of Idaho is the state of Idaho's oldest public university and is one of only 72 national land-grant research universities. The University is located in Moscow towards the northern portion of the state. UI has been recognized by Forbes magazine as 33rd in the nation among the 2012 "Top 100 Best Buy Colleges" and second among all national research universities in the Pacific Northwest. UI also continues to have a record number of National Merit Scholars – more than any other public institution of higher education in the Pacific Northwest. 130 Bachelor's, 88 Master's, and 32 Doctoral degrees are offered by UI and the university enrolls over 11,000 students on its main campus.
"The move to the Sun Belt Conference is an important move for us. It provides us a known conference schedule, affiliation, and revenue source as we build strength in our FBS football program," said University of Idaho President M. Duane Nellis.
New Mexico State University is a comprehensive land-grant institution of higher learning which is also a NASA Space Grant College, a Hispanic-serving institution and is home to the very first Honors College in New Mexico. NMSU's main campus in Las Cruces features an enrollment of over 17,000 students and the University offers 88 bachelor's, 54 master's, 53 certificate, 52 associate, 22 doctoral, 4 specialist in education and 3 doctor of education degree programs. Issues in Higher Education places NMSU among the top 100 undergraduate and graduate degree producers for minority students. U.S. News and World Report ranks NMSU in the top tier among Best National Universities.
"We are honored to receive an offer for our football program to join the Sun Belt Conference and the opportunity to play in a conference that offers such outstanding competition," New Mexico State Interim President Dr. Manuel Pacheco said. "Clearly, the Sun Belt is a conference on the rise and we are excited to be part of an organization that shares NMSU's commitment to excellence in the classroom, on the playing field, and, most importantly, to a quality experience for the student athlete."
The Sun Belt Conference will contest the 2013 football season with eight members – Arkansas State, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama, Texas State, Troy and Western Kentucky University. UALR and UT Arlington compete as non-football members.