UTA Athletics to leave Sun Belt Conference

The Mavericks' and Sun Belt Conference's logos are displayed on the basketball court Dec. 17 at College Park Center. UTA has until June 30, 2023, to align with a new conference.

UTA and the Sun Belt Conference have mutually agreed to part ways, according to documents obtained by The Shorthorn.

UTA’s athletic teams will continue to play in the Sun Belt Conference for the remainder of the season. The university has until June 30, 2023, to affiliate with a new conference to avoid exit fees, according to the documents.

A conference is a group of schools with similar characteristics, including enrollment numbers, regionally located and similar missions in terms of academic profile, said Jason MacBain, associate athletic communications director.

The Mavericks have been a member of the Sun Belt Conference since the 2013-2014 academic year.

Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill discussed UTA’s future partnership with the conference in a Nov. 10 letter addressed to interim President Teik Lim, according to the documents obtained by The Shorthorn.

“We agreed that a change in conference affiliation would create an opportunity for UTA to be in a conference more focused on its core goals,” Gill said in a September meeting between UTA and Sun Belt officials, according to the documents.

UTA officials said the university’s lack of a football program may have played a role in the Sun Belt’s decision.

The Sun Belt was established in 1976. Moving forward, all of its members will have a football program because the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and UTA are departing.

“With not having football, the Sun Belt is really not probably the place for us to be anymore,” Athletics director Jim Baker said in an interview with The Shorthorn last week.

He said UTA needs a conference that focuses on basketball and other sports.

Low attendance and inadequate funding prompted former President Wendell Nedderman to eliminate the football program in 1985. Those problems persist today, Baker said in a previous Shorthorn article.

The Sun Belt Conference recently added four universities with football programs, including Marshall University, University of Southern Mississippi and Old Dominion University in October then James Madison University in November. 

Baker said UTA has been prepared for this for the past year, and they may stay one more year or leave after this year.

UTA has won four conference championships and earned two NCAA tournament appearances since 2018 across all athletics programs while in the Sun Belt.

Baker said the Sun Belt has been a great home for UTA, and they’ve been upfront with the conference on working with them to figure out what is ideal for the university moving forward.

“I just think it kind of comes out at the end of the day, what is the best fit for UTA,” Baker said.

Before the Sun Belt, the Mavericks were a member of the Western Athletic Conference during the 2012-2013 academic year and the Southland Conference from 1963-2012.

“Our time in the Sun Belt was great, but things come to an end, and we just need to be ready and move to the next challenge,” he said.

UTA has had conversations with the Southland Conference and the Western Athletic Conference, according to Baker.

UTA officials also met with the Missouri Valley Conference on Dec. 19 in St. Louis, according to documents obtained by The Shorthorn.

Baker said officials hope to decide on which conference to join within the next 10 days. The university would also need approval from the UT System before an announcement is made, he said.

@D_Tineo4

sports-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

 

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