New Mexico State, Idaho and Georgia Southern now in play for Sun Belt

Idaho, New Mexico State and Georgia Southern are on the Sun Belt's list of schools to replace Middle Tennessee State and Florida Atlantic, CBSSports.com has learned.

Conference realignment trickled down to the Sun Belt -- generally considered the No. 11 conference among the 11 FBS leagues -- after Conference USA took the Blue Raiders and Owls on Wednesday to go to 14 teams. The Sun Belt is positioned to fill in. Idaho and New Mexico State are immediately available. Both are exploring playing as independents after the demise of the WAC following this season. Georgia Southern is an emerging FCS program moving up to FBS.

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The school's students approved a student fee increase in September to finance the move.

Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky has said on three occassions in the past year that the league could possibly expand to 16 teams. He was asked Thursday, why not make the move to 16 now rather than waiting until another possible raid by the Big East.

"We're going to have a process," Banowsky said. "We kind of deal with arrangement of expectations. We focus on what the optimum structure is. Whether Big East moves again, we'll be ready. If they do, that's not really going to influence what we think is the best structure."

Charlotte and Old Dominion are joining Conference USA in all sports except football beginning in 2014. Banowsky said he had no idea about rumors that Western Kentucky and New Mexico State would be the next football additions to his conference.

The latest round of realignment was kicked off last week when the Big Ten added Maryland and Rutgers.

"He has some master plan I'm sure," Banowksy said of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. "He's a tremendous leader. I trust he's about trying to execute that plan. I'm not going to try to be critical of the Big Ten, at all. ... We're also part of a bigger system. ...

"It's a big fabric. When we start ripping the fabric or putting a lot of stress on fabric, things separate. If it's not woven tightly, it's not good for higher education."

Conference USA currently pays out $2 million-$3 million to members in TV revenue per year. Sun Belt's per-team number is approximately $1 million.

 
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