Sun Belt adds four members

NEW ORLEANS — A busy day in the Sun Belt Conference has culminated with the additions of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern as all-sports members and Idaho and New Mexico State as football playing members. All four announcements took place Wednesday.

Both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern bring with highly successful football programs. The 2014 Sun Belt football season will mark the debut of both. Both the Mountaineers and Eagles will be able to compete for the league championship in football for the 2014 season. Both teams will first be eligible to compete in a spot for a postseason bowl game after the 2015 season.

Idaho and New Mexico State are familiar partners of the SBC, 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 for football and now add strength to the league. Having reached the 12-team mark, the SBC can play a football championship game should it choose to do so. Both Idaho and New Mexico State will be immediately eligible to compete for the Sun Belt football championship and for a spot in postseason bowl games.

The SBC finished with its most nonconference wins in league history in 2012 and sent a record four teams to bowl games. The conference also finished the 2012 season with its best ever average computer ranking, ahead of Conference USA and the Mountain West.

The league also had two wins over top-25 ranked opponents, and Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State won their bowl games. All four SBC schools that went to bowl games in 2012 return for 2013.

The 2012-13 men’s basketball season has seen the league put together its best nonconference RPI in four years while sending two teams to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The SBC men’s and women’s basketball teams combined for a record-tying seven postseason appearances this season.

The Sun Belt will have eight football members for this season: Arkansas State, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama, Texas State, Troy and Western Kentucky. UALR and UT Arlington compete as nonfootball members.

New Mexico State school officials said the move is pending approval by the state Board of Regents.

“We were delighted to receive the official invitation and we will be proud to join,” New Mexico State interim President Manuel Pacheco said. “This is a well-respected conference.”

New Mexico State played eight years in the Western Athletic Conference and will play as an independent this fall after the WAC gave up trying to field a football league in 2013.

The Aggies went 1-11 last season and haven’t appeared in a bowl game since 1960.

Offensive coordinator Doug Martin took over as football coach in January after DeWayne Walker stepped down after four losing seasons.