CONWAY, SC (WMBF) – Coastal Carolina University announced Tuesday that it will be joining the NCAA's Sun Belt Conference beginning in the 2016-2017 academic year.
"Let me put the rumors to an end....we accept your invite to the Sun Belt Conference," CCU President Dr. David DeCenzo said at the announcement Tuesday.
"When I first stepped foot onto Coastal's campus, I knew it was special," said the Karl Benson, the Sun Belt commissioner who was on hand for the announcement. He says it took less than 90 days from the first visit to decide to extend the invitation to CCU, making it the second quickest he has ever added a school to a conference that he presides over. "The students in this room, this decision was for you," he added.
Benson told WMBF News the decision had to do with location, but also with the quality athletic and academic programs at CCU.
"It is what they can offer and deliver. We're here to focus on Coastal Carolina. It's a vibrant dynamic university, in a vibrant, dynamic community," said Benson. He also added, "the growing area here in the greater Myrtle Beach area, I think that's part of what will make CCU a great member of the Sun Belt in a very short amount of time."
CCU will join the conference beginning July 1, 2016, officials confirmed Tuesday. The Sun Belt will then be split into two divisions, the east and the west. Coastal will join the east division, which will consist of Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Troy, South Alabama, and Appalachian State in all sports.
Coastal Carolina must pay a $100,000 exit fee to leave the Big South Conference, WMBF News Sports Director Joe Murano has learned. The university will also begin football stadium renovation immediately. According to school Athletic Director Matt Hogue, Sun Belt and FBS standards are for a stadium with at least 20,000 seats.
CCU's football team must undergo the usual NCAA transition process, which means in 2016, they must still compete at the FCS level, and will be ineligible for the postseason. In 2017, the football team will join the Sun Belt, and will be eligible for the Sun Belt championship, but won't be bowl-eligible until the 2018 season.
"I am confident the Chants will continue to win championships under the Sun Belt name," Commissioner Benson said.
News of the move to the Sun Belt Conference began appearing on Sunday with an ESPN article confirming that Sun Belt Conference officials voted to add CCU over Eastern Kentucky. Former CCU Athletic Director, Hunter Yurachek, tweeted Monday night saying he was "excited to see Sun Belt's choice to add Coastal Carolina as the 12th member."
On Tuesday, President DeCenzo said, "I said when I become president, my goal is to make every alumni's degree more valuable tomorrow than it is the day they get it, that is a step forward in that process, this puts us in a very visible arena."
Brad Dean with the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce said the biggest benefit to the community is the economic impact. CCU brings in more than 400 million dollars to Horry County, an amount expected to grow and to make up for the money lost by no longer holding the Big South Tournament.
"Sometimes you need to go through some temporary pain for bigger gain. We may lose in the short term with events planned here, like basketball and golf. But we know the Sun Belt will bring even more events, bigger events and visitors to the area. The long term impact to our community and university is great," said Brad Dean.