New Mexico State University and its athletics department announced Wednesday that an invitation has been extended and accepted to join the Sun Belt Conference as a football-only member. This move is pending NM State Board of Regents approval. NM State will begin competition in the Sun Belt in the fall of 2014.
There is no question that the Sun Belt Conference is a league on the rise in football. The conference finished with its most non-conference wins in league history in 2012 and also sent a record four teams to bowl games. The conference also finished the 2012 season with its best ever average computer ranking – finishing 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 respective bowl games.
Having reached the 12-team mark, the Sun Belt Conference can now play a football championship game should it choose to do so. Both New Mexico State and Idaho will be immediately eligible to compete for the Sun Belt football championship and also for a spot in postseason bowl games.
NM State, which was most recently a member of the Sun Belt Conference from 2001-2005, will also renew several historic rivalries with former conference foes Arkansas State, Louisiana, and Louisiana-Monroe.
"I look forward to joining the Sun Belt Conference in football in Fall 2014,” NM State Athletics Director Dr. McKinley Boston said. “The Sun Belt has established itself as a solid football conference and our goal is to be a contributing member going forward. It will also be a pleasure to work with Karl Benson again who I believe is one of the outstanding commissioners in Division I.”
“The addition of New Mexico State marks a significant moment for the Sun Belt Conference,” said Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson. “The administrators from our league have been working hard and taking the initiative for the conference to continue its expansion during a time when national realignment has been extensive. Having an FBS program join the league will give us a school that is instantly ready to compete for a bowl bid.”
“We are honored to receive an offer for our football program to join the Sun Belt Conference and the opportunity to play in a conference that offers such outstanding competition,” NM State Interim President Manuel Pacheco said. “Clearly, the Sun Belt is a conference on the rise and we are excited to be part of an organization that shares NMSU’s commitment to excellence in the classroom, on the playing field, and, most importantly, to a quality experience for the student athlete.”
“First I want to thank Dr. Boston and President Pacheco for their efforts in securing us a spot in the Sun Belt,” NM State Head Football Coach Doug Martin. “I’m very excited about competing in the Sun Belt. Obviously, the steps the conference took this past season as far as getting into four bowl games and upsetting some BCS team really established the Sun Belt as a top mid-major conference. The Sun Belt is a conference that is on the rise and we look forward to contributing to it.”
The Aggies began conference affiliation in athletics in 1932 when they joined the Border Conference. The Aggies left that league at the end of the 1961-62 academic year and became independent for the next nine years. NM State rejoined conference play in 1971 when the school joined the Missouri Valley Conference. The Aggies left the MVC at the end of the 1982-83 academic year and joined the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference, which became the Big West Conference in 1989.
The Aggies left the Big West at the end of the 1999-2000 academic year and joined the Sun Belt, where they were members from 2000-01 until the summer of 2005. Most recently, NM State was a member of the Western Athletic Conference starting in the 2005-06 academic year and will remain as members in all sports, except for football. The Aggies’ women’s athletic teams were also members of the Intermountain Conference of the AIAW from 1973 through 1982 and the High Country Athletic Conference from 1982 through 1990.