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Minium: Sun Belt Was the Best Conference in All Sports This Fall Among the Group of Five and Mid-Majors


Wood Selig, Keith Gill, President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., and Bruce Bradley Sun Belt press conference

NORFOLK, Va. – The Sun Belt Conference is nationally known for its powerful college football, and with good reason. The 14-school league put 12 teams in bowl games in 2023 and was rated by nearly every computer ranking as the best football league outside the Power Five.
But what isn't so well known is the Sun Belt was the nation's best conference in all sports combined this past fall, outside of the power conferences.
The Learfield Director's Cup measures postseason performance for all NCAA schools. And when the data from all fall sports was tabulated, the Sun Belt finished ahead of every other Group of Five and mid-major conference.
The Sun Belt had 771 total points and finished fifth nationally, behind the ACC, Big Ten, SEC and Big 12. The Pac-12 schools were included in conferences they will join next season.
The Big East, Ivy League, West Coast, Big Sky and Mountain West round out the Top Ten. The American Athletic Conference, which has often claimed to be the nation's "Power Six" conference, was No. 11 and Conference USA, the league ODU left in 2022 to join the Sun Belt, was No. 14.
"We had a really good fall," Sun Belt Commissioner Keith Gill said. "We didn't need a web site to tell us that. But we're excited and very pleased by the direction we're moving."
Asked if the Sun Belt is the best of all Group of Five and mid-major leagues, Gill said "we believe we are and that's our goal. It's not a goal we run away from.
"When you look at the kind of performance we've had across the board, it's hard to argue against that."

The decision to move to the Sun Belt in 2022 was made by ODU President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.d, and Dr Wood Selig, ODU's director of athletics. The move also greatly improved ODU's TV profile and had provided more conference revenue for the University. 
The conference-by-conference rankings weren't tabulated by Learfield. They were compiled by Tony Altimore, a strategy consultant who has an MBA from the prestigious Wharton School of Business at Penn and whose expertise once had him working in Germany for the CIA (he was not a spy).

 The Sun Belt sent four volleyball teams to the NCAA Tournament.

Altimore's hobby is mining statistics often overlooked by the media and presenting them on Twitter. He makes mere cents per day from his work but is passionate about what he does. Many of his Tweets deal with the finances and rapid changes occurring in college athletics.
"I think it has helped people become smarter," he said.

He took the Learfield statistics and compiled them by conference and unveiled them in a Tweet on January 12. 
His Tweet did well, accumulating 51,000 views. But the Sun Belt's success in the fall still remains relatively unknown.


Four schools – Coastal Carolina, James Madison, South Alabama and Texas State – went to the NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament.
Sun Belt men's and women's soccer also did  well.
The Sun Belt sent five teams to the men's tournament, including West Virginia, which made it to the Final Four. ODU won the Sun Belt women's title and was joined by at-large pick James Madison in the NCAA Tournament. South Alabama almost certainly should have also been an at-large pick given its impressive resume but was left out.
ODU won the Big East field hockey championship, the Sun Belt got partial credit for that win and the Monarchs' first-round game in the NCAA Tournament.

The Sun Belt is a power league in men's soccer.  

Overall, ODU ranks 69th among all Division I schools for its performance in the fall, and that's better than more than a dozen Power Five schools. Five other Sun Belt schools were in the top 100, including No. 44 JMU, No. 75 Marshall and three schools tied for 91st – Coastal Carolina, South Alabama and Texas State.
The Sun Belt will dip a bit this winter as both men's and women's basketball almost certainly will be limited to one NCAA Tournament  bid.
"We have a bunch of work to do in basketball," Gill said. "We have some initiatives we are working on. We know we need to get better and we will."
But Sun Belt baseball and softball are also strong and could help the Sun Belt make up ground this spring.
Four Sun Belt teams participated in the NCAA Baseball Tournament and two in the softball Tournament in 2023. Most conference ratings had the Sun Belt fifth in baseball and sixth in softball nationally in 2023.
ODU, JMU, Marshall and Southern Miss, which all joined the Sun Belt in 2022, all contributed to the Sun Belt's stellar play in sports other than football.
"Our choices on expansion were made with football in mind," Gill said. "But we also knew we were getting schools with very good programs outside of football.
"I think ODU and JMU have played a big role. It's worked the way we hoped it would work. We didn't just improve in football. We improved in a lot of other sports."
Expansion also allowed the Sun Belt to begin playing men's soccer as a sport.

The Sun Belt is generally ranked fifth nationally in baseball, ahead of the Big Ten.  

"The reality is that the four new schools integrated really well into our league," Gill said. "It's hard to remember when the conference didn't look like this."
He said he continues to be contacted by other Group of Five schools about expansion.
"It's now a back burner issue," he said. "People are always reaching out to see where we are as a conference. We are good where we are. I have no plans to expand.
"There are so many things that we can't control that might change that. But as I look at things right now, and I look at the schools we already have, there are no plans to expand unless something dramatic happens."

Altimore says he's a big Sun Belt fan.
"I love the Sun Belt," he said. "They're doing all sorts of good stuff. It's an awesome conference."

But he also loves the Sun Belt academically. Many, especially ODU, pride themselves on educating "first generation" students, meaning those from families without college graduates. ODU is a national leader in providing an education to students that lifts them out of poverty. 
No one plays better football outside of the Power 5 than the Sun Belt.  

"So many kids at Sun Belt schools are first generation," he said. 
"A lot of Sun Belt schools are doing what land-grant schools were doing 60 or 70 years ago. What the Sun Belt schools are doing as institutions is really important.
"We need more of that."

Minium is ODU's Senior Executive Writer for Athletics. Contact him at or follow him  on TwitterFacebook or Instagram