HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) — Marshall school and athletics officials sat down with the commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference to discuss the transition.
“It’s been a short period of time that the Sun Belt stepped forward but it was a very attractive offer to us in terms of giving us that regional opportunity for play and for rivalries,” says Jerome Gilbert, president of Marshall University.
University officials say they are excited by the opportunities joining the Sun Belt Conference will open up for Marshall’s teams on a regional and national level.
“Our brand is incredibly strong, that’s why the Sun Belt Conference wanted us,” says Brad Smith, president-elect of Marshall University.
The Sun Belt Conference waived the two million dollar entrance fee for Marshall Athletics.
“There is an annual fee of 80,000 dollars for membership, which is less than what we were paying previously,” Gilbert says.
However, there’s a cost to leave Conference USA: a hit of about three million dollars; but, it will be paid for by forfeiting revenue distribution they would have gotten this year and next year.
“We’ll have to tighten our belt here in the next two years to make up that difference of a million and a half; says Jeff O’Malley, interim director of athletics at Marshall University.
Students on campus say they are optimistic about this change.
“It’s gonna be really great marketing for our college and it’s gonna get us a lot more students,” says Menis Ketchum, a student at Marshall University.
“I think it’s really good for Marshall, you know we’re taking a lot of big steps in a lot of areas. We’re looking at trying to become an R-1 institution and with the men’s soccer team, they really proved themselves last year so I think all-around it’s good that we’re gonna get some better competition and maybe try to prove ourselves even more,” says Luke Jeffrey, a student at Marshall University.
As for what this means for Marshall Athletics, the geographical location of where the other schools in the conference are will make it easier for both players and fans to travel.
A big concern, though, was the lack of a men’s soccer league within the Sun Belt.
“We did not make this move without soccer in mind,” said O’Malley. “So I told Coach [Grassie], we really need to strategize how to take care of soccer. He understood that this was a decision that had to be made for Marshall University as a whole, and Marshall Athletics as a whole, but we do need to make sure soccer is taken care of and we’re moving to do that.”
As we mentioned, this move would come no later than 2023.