Photo | University of South Alabama Athletics

The University of South Alabama Jaguars football team, which began practice in its new indoor facility last week, will be competing for a berth in the first-ever SBC Championship game this season.

The plans may have been announced two years ago, but some University of South Alabama fans are unaware the Jaguars will be competing for something very special in 2018. Starting this season, the Sun Belt Conference (SBC) will conduct its first-ever football championship game.

The contest will be played on Saturday, Dec. 1, and air on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2. The winners of the Sun Belt’s two divisions will play at the home site of the divisional champion with the best overall conference winning percentage.

This marks the start of the SBC going to divisional play in football. In baseball last season, USA was in the East Division of conference play. The Jaguars will be in the West for football, along with Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe and Texas State. In the East are Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Troy.

That produces a pair of five-team divisions. Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas-Arlington are members of the SBC, but do not field football teams. New Mexico State and Idaho left the Sun Belt following the 2017 season.

“The addition of the championship game adds another level of interest and excitement for our fans and all fans of college football,” USA Director of Athletics Joel Erdmann said at the time of the announcement. “This is another step forward for the Sun Belt Conference and our football programs.”

• The Jaguars will also be playing for a berth in their third bowl game. In 2018, the Sun Belt is guaranteed a minimum of five spots in the postseason.

Along with the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, the SBC maintains partnerships with the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, the AutoNation Cure Bowl and the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl.

• The regular-season finale for the Jags has been moved to Friday, Nov. 23, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The game with Coastal Carolina will also serve as Seniors Day.

This will mark the first time these teams have met since the Chanticleers (named for a rooster in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”) joined the SBC prior to the start of the 2017 season. The starting time has yet to be determined.

• Tickets are now on sale for all six Jaguar road games. South’s first contest away from Ladd is Saturday, Sept. 8, at Oklahoma State. Tickets cost $52.

The Jags will conclude the opening month of the season with trips to Memphis (Sept. 22) and Appalachian State (Sept. 29), with tickets costing $32 and $47, respectively. USA wraps up a three-game road trip Oct. 6 with a visit to Georgia Southern, where the price of admission will be $32.

Tickets for the Jaguars’ Nov. 3 matchup at Arkansas State are available for $22, while the cost to attend the game at Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 17 will be $37.

Tickets can be purchased by visiting or calling 251-461-1USA (1872).

• Kickoff times and television coverage have been announced for several USA football games. The first two home games — Saturday, Sept. 1, against Louisiana Tech and Saturday, Sept. 15, versus Texas State — will both start at 6 p.m. and be available on the ESPN+ streaming service. 

The same network will carry the road games with Oklahoma State and Memphis. Both contests kick off at 7 p.m.

The Jags’ Tuesday, Oct. 23, matchup with rival Troy in the “Battle for the Belt” will start at 7 p.m. It will air from Ladd-Peebles Stadium on ESPN2.

College briefs

• The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) has announced its 2018 All-Academic Teams and Scholar-Athletes. Spring Hill College had both its men and women’s teams honored, along with 11 individual Badgers.

On the women’s side, junior Madison Artigues, junior Brenda Carrada, sophomore Rebecca Pearlman and freshman Alexandria Rayford were honored. For the Badger men, it was junior Ferdinand Amanor, senior Lars Bajohr, freshman Chris Mines, freshman Cedric Nitz, freshman Ricardo Pena, senior Andrew Risley and sophomore Kurt Shiell.

The ITA All-Academic Team award is open to any ITA program that has a cumulative team GPA of 3.20 or above. In order to earn ITA Scholar-Athlete status, a player must be a varsity letter winner and have a GPA of at least 3.50.

• For the second straight season, USA’s Jason Mendel has been named a Cleveland Golf/Srixon All-America Scholar by the Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA). Mendel earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and finance/marketing in May, finishing with a 3.61 cumulative GPA. He was named to the SBC Commissioner’s List on three occasions during his career, also making the league’s Academic Honor Roll once.

In competition last year, Mendel posted a 74.46 stroke average — including four rounds at or below par — while also winning both his matches to help the Jags claim the Southern Collegiate Match Play for the second consecutive season.

Mendel was not the only smart student on the men’s golf team. For the 10th straight year, the GCAA has named the Jaguars an All-Academic Team. This honor includes programs that record a GPA of 3.0 or better during the academic year.

Seven of the nine individuals on South’s roster recorded a 3.0 or higher GPA last season, with the group of Spencer Arnold, Justin Choi, Peter Staalbo and Stephen Wall all above a 3.8. Also finishing with a mark of 3.3 or better with Mendel were Rasmus Karlsson and Yannick Schütz. Overall, the Jaguars posted a 3.41 GPA during the 2017-18 season.

• Dr. Brandon Spradley, United States Sports Academy’s director of sports management, has been involved in addressing the issue of concussion in sports. For his efforts, he has been named as a reviewer for an international academic journal.

Spradley will review articles for the Journal of Concussion, a peer-reviewed, open-access journal devoted to a multi-disciplinary, broad-based approach to head injuries and their care. The journal encourages concussion-related research in neurosurgery; neurology; psychiatry; ear, nose and throat; physiotherapy; rehabilitation; sport; transport and epidemiology.

Spradley earned his Doctor of Education degree in sports management from USSA, where his dissertation focused on concussion awareness and education. He researched the King-Devick Test, a groundbreaking method for identifying athletes with head trauma. The test provides athletes with a baseline reading that athletic trainers and doctors can then use as a gauge to test athletes after a possible concussive event.