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story.lead_photo.caption Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson talks during the Sun Belt media day in New Orleans, Tuesday, July 22, 2014.

The Sun Belt Conference has retained an Atlanta-based search firm, Parker Executive Search, to conduct the conference's vetting process for a new commissioner, outgoing Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson told the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette in an exclusive interview last week.

A high-ranking executive from Parker Executive Search declined a request for comment, citing the search firm's inability to speak publicly about ongoing or future searches.

Benson, whose contractual tenure with the Sun Belt is fulfilled in June 2019, told the Democrat-Gazette the end of his term as commissioner does not necessarily equal retirement.

Benson spoke at length about changes expected for the Sun Belt, including his involvement with the changing of commissioners; plans for the Sun Belt's inaugural conference football championship game in December; and the conference's projection to replace one of its five guaranteed bowl games with a new bowl in Myrtle Beach, S.C., beginning in 2020.

[MORE: Read full Q&A with Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson]

Benson, who turns 67 in December, said he plans to move to Denver, where his wife Sarah resides, once his Sun Belt run is complete. Benson, who has not ruled out future work and said the notion of his retirement is misleading, is commuting to and from Denver from the Sun Belt's headquarters in New Orleans.

"I don't see myself not working," Benson said. "I don't know if I'm going to work 75 hours a week. I'm going to be selective and pick and choose something that is meaningful, whether it's in college sports or something else.

"I'll be 67 this December, so health is good, new marriage and all that. It seems like it was the right time [to step aside]."

Benson, the commissioner since 2012, does not expect to be involved in the naming of his successor. He said he would provide insight if requested.

A meeting involving Sun Belt officials and the search firm is tentatively scheduled for October, when an official timeline for evaluating candidates is expected to be set, Benson said.

New bowl

A change to the Sun Belt's football postseason presence is coming to one of the five bowl game partnerships -- the New Orleans Bowl, the Dollar General Bowl, the Camellia Bowl, the Cure Bowl and the Arizona Bowl.

The Sun Belt is under contract with all five bowls through the 2019 season, Benson said.

In the 2020 season, instead of entering a contract with a sixth bowl game provider, the Sun Belt is expecting to replace one of the five bowl games with a bowl in Myrtle Beach.

"We're expecting a new bowl game in Myrtle Beach that ESPN will own and it will be affiliated with that game," said Benson, who expects to receive official confirmation about the new bowl in the next 30-60 days.

No major sponsorship or name has been selected for the Myrtle Beach bowl, Benson said.

Coastal Carolina University's Brooks Stadium is expected to be the proposed host site for the game, which will be televised on an ESPN network and likely held in December, as previously reported by college football reporter Brett McMurphy.

Title game logistics

The first Sun Belt title game will be played Dec. 1 and air on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2. The game will feature the winners of the Sun Belt's two divisions and will take place at the home site of the divisional champion with the best overall conference winning percentage.

The process has complications.

Because the game will be hosted by a Sun Belt school and not at a neutral site, the delayed uncertainty of a host is expected to cause logistical issues because the site cannot be selected until divisional winners are apparent.

Benson, who said the conference plans to host a pregame show to mirror ESPN's College GameDay, said the Sun Belt is sending conference officials to evaluate select campuses for the event, including visits to 5-6 schools most likely to be in contention at the end of the season.

Conference officials visited Jonesboro toward the beginning of the football season to evaluate Arkansas State's potential as a host location, Benson said.

"Not going to a neutral site does create some last-minute [hurdles], but our staff is going to be prepared," Benson said. "We're going to want to knock it out of the park."

Sports on 09/11/2018

Print Headline: Sun Belt boss can't wind down just yet

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