This is the latest in Stadium’s “Conference Chain of Command” series in which we polled a handful of veteran coaches in every league to determine the best JOBS in each league, all the way down to the ones that are the most difficult.
Here are the eight categories that were utilized to determine the overall rankings.
- Tradition – The history of the program
- Media Exposure – Games on national television
- Game Atmosphere – Includes attendance
- Budget/Resources – Includes coaches’ salaries, recruiting budget, travel budget, private planes, cost of attendance, etc.
- Buy Games – Programs who are bought the fewest number of times will rank first
- Geographical Recruiting Base – Proximity to players
- Facilities – Not just the arena, but also practice facilities, weight room, locker rooms, etc.
- Selling Pros – Being able to sell not only NBA players, but also those who play overseas
This is how polling in the Sun Belt shook out among coaches who voted, with one being the best and 12 being the worst:
1. Louisiana (84) – The Ragin’ Cajuns rank first in four categories — history, game atmosphere, budget and also pros to sell. The program has been to the NCAA tourney 10 times, including Sweet 16 appearances in 1972 and 1973. They moved into the Sun Belt in 1991 and have gone to the NCAA Tournament six times since joining the league.
Where they win: “Location. There’s talent in the state, and you can also get to Texas and Florida. Fanbase is loyal to the Ragin’ Cajuns, and the arena is also one of the best in the league. There’s also a ton of history with the program.” – Sun Belt head coach
Where they lose: “Expectations.” – Sun Belt assistant
2. Georgia State (77) – The Panthers have reached the NCAA Tournament five times, including three in the last five years under former coach Ron Hunter. The recruiting base is the best in the league, but the facilities rank towards the bottom of the conference. Georgia State can also sell one of the Sun Belt’s few first-round picks in recent years: R.J. Hunter.
Where they win: “Budget and players. They have so many players in their backyard, that’s what makes it such a good job. But you can also get anywhere quick in and out of Atlanta. There’s also the sell of the city of Atlanta.” – Sun Belt assistant
Where they lose: “Facilities. They are one of the worst in the league. They play on the fifth floor of a class building. It’s got the feel of a high school gym. ” – Sun Belt head coach
3. UTA (69) – The Mavericks have just one NCAA Tournament appearance (in 2008 under Scott Cross), so it ranks near the bottom in terms of history and tradition. However, its facilities are the best in the league, and it also has one of the best recruiting bases.
Where they win: “Recruiting base and the best facilities in the league.” – Sun Belt head coach
Where they lose: “No tradition and there’s no real home-court advantage.” – Sun Belt assistant
4. South Alabama (68) – They have eight NCAA tourney appearances — in 1979, 1980, 1989, 1991, 1997, 1998, 2006 and 2008. There’s plenty of history, but everything else ranks toward the middle of the league.
Where they win: “Facilities and campus are nice.” – Sun Belt head coach
Where they lose: “Arena is too big, bad recruiting base, and football and baseball dominate the fanbase and support.” – Sun Belt assistant
5. Little Rock (64) – The Trojans have gone dancing five times, with their last appearance coming in 2016 when UALR pulled the first-round upset over Purdue — now-Texas Tech Head Coach Chris Beard was in charge for that historic win. Little Rock checks in at third in the league in game atmosphere and also selling pros, and fourth in TV exposure and facilities. The lone categories where it falls in the bottom half of the league are recruiting base and buy games.
Where they win: “Basketball matters in the state. Nice facility, and can get anyone into school.” – Sun Belt head coach
Where they lose: “Administration has been awful lately, and that’s hurt the program. Also a fair-weathered fanbase.” – Sun Belt assistant
6. Texas State (50) – The Bobcats have notched two NCAA Tournament appearances (1994 and 1997). Formerly known as Southwest Texas State, the program has one of the better recruiting bases in the league, but it’s towards the bottom in history and game atmosphere.
Where they win: “Great college town with huge enrollment, students go to games and the area is growing fast. It’s near Austin and San Antonio, and relatively close to Houston and Dallas. Facilities recently upgraded.” – Sun Belt assistant
Where they lose: “The facility. It’s really old, and there’s not much history.” – Sun Belt assistant
7. Georgia Southern (43) – The Eagles have gone to the Big Dance in 1983, 1987 and 1992. The game-day atmosphere is its biggest sell, but the program ranks 11th in both resources and also facilities.
Where they win: “Close to Atlanta, North Carolina and Florida. Real home-court advantage, almost 30,000 students and a party school.”
Where they lose: “Budget. That’s the hardest part. It’s also a small city and the gym looks like a high school gym.”
8. Coastal Carolina (39) – The Chanticleers have reached the NCAA tourney four times — in 1991, 1993, and in 2014 and 2015 under current coach Cliff Ellis. The program ranks fourth in buy games, six in history and in the bottom half of the league in everything else, including 11th in recruiting base.
Where they win: “Location, location, location. Myrtle Beach, beautiful campus, great place for an official visit and great spot to go to school.” – Sun Belt head coach
Where they lose: “Lack of fanbase and support. No practice facility, and issues with admissions.” – Sun Belt assistant
9. Troy (36) – The Trojans rank second in facilities and third in budget/resources, but 10th in history. Troy entered the Sun Belt in 2005 and has two all-time NCAA Tournament appearances (2003 and 2017).
Where they win: “Nice arena, maybe best in the league, and they have real money.” – Sun Belt assistant
Where they lose: “Football is king, and it’s a really small town.” – Sun Belt head coach
10. Arkansas State (35) – The Red Wolves have a single NCAA Tournament appearance — in 1999 under Dickey Nutt. They don’t rank in the top four in any category, but do rank fifth in both game atmosphere and facilities. However, Arkansas State checks in dead last in history/tradition and buy games.
Where they win: “Great home game atmosphere, and there’s not much to do in Jonesboro, so they support athletics.” – Sun Belt head coach
Where they lose: “Lack of success. They just don’t have any history, and it’s a little baffling.” – Sun Belt assistant
11. Appalachian State (30) – The Mountaineers went to the NCAA Tournament in 1979 and 2000 and made the NIT in 2007. It doesn’t crack the top half of the league in any of the categories, and ranks 10th in TV exposure, game atmosphere, budget and pros to sell.
Where they win: “Community is packed with restaurants and bars, and arena is pretty nice.”
Where they lose: “No one — from administrators to fans — cares. No tradition except for a couple years with Bobby Cremins.” – Sun Belt assistant
12. UL-Monroe (29) – The Warhawks moved from the Southland to the Sun Belt in 2006 and have plenty of history, although much of it dates back more than a couple decades ago. ULM went to the NCAA Tournament in 1982, 1986, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1996, but the program ranks last in the league in resources, facilities, TV exposure, game atmosphere and also recruiting base.
Where they win: “Small campus, but nice. Has some good basketball history, and also within driving distance of good areas to recruit.” – Sun Belt head coach
Where they lose: “Lack of resources. Smallest budget in the league, oldest facility in the league. Also a small town and not many students.” – Sun Belt assistant