ATLANTA — Georgia State didn't have a football team three years ago. Now they're joining the ranks of the game's superpowers.
The Panthers accepted an invitation Monday to become a member of the Sun Belt Conference in 2013, when they'll be planning in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Panthers coach Bill Curry is excited about the move, but the timing surprised him.
"For us to be able to move this quickly is something I would have never dreamed of," Curry said.
Georgia State launched its program in 2010 and has played only two seasons in the Football Championship Subdivision. The Panthers are 9-13 under Curry, including 3-8 in 2011.
But this move is about economics, not success on the football field.
"I don't think we had a choice," Curry said.
The official invitation was extended to the school by Sun Belt Conference president and Troy University chancellor Jack Hawkins.
The Panthers will continue to play in the FCS as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association through 2012.
Georgia State President Mark Becker said dramatic conference realignments across the nation led to a feasibility study to determine if the school was a good fit for a FBS conference. He said the study "showed we would fit nicely" with the Sun Belt.
At that point, it was just a matter of waiting for the invitation.
"When all the arrows pointed to 'Yes, do this' then we had to move quickly because if you don't, you get left in the dirt the way it is these days," Curry said. "Things move so fast in this world."
Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said his conference "gets bigger but more importantly gets better" by adding Georgia State.
"Both the Sun Belt and Georgia State are in similar positions with tremendous upside, tremendous potential," Benson said.
Benson said adding the Atlanta TV market "makes us a more attractive entity and we hope to maximize that in the next set of negotiations" with ESPN.
The move leaves the conference with 11 football schools, "so our goal would be to get to 12," Benson said.
Georgia State president Mark Becker said he notified CAA commissioner Tom Yeager on Sunday night the school was withdrawing from the conference.
"Georgia State's withdrawal from the CAA and CAA football is predicated on the university's desire to reclassify to FBS football which requires membership in an FBS league," Yeager said in a statement. "We've been aware that GSU was having discussions with the Sun Belt Conference as the CAA could not accommodate that desire within GSU's timeframe. The conference wishes the university well as it pursues these new interests."
Georgia State will pay a $250,000 buyout to the CAA and a $300,000 entry fee to the Sun Belt.
The school is moving to the Sun Belt in all sports.
CAA assistant commissioner Scott Meyer told The Associated Press the conference and Georgia State "are working amicably" to decide the school's status for conference championships in 2012.
Georgia State will play its first Sun Belt schedule in football on a transition basis in 2013 and will be eligible for the postseason and the conference championship in 2014.
Georgia State was a founding member of the Sun Belt in 1976 but left the league in 1981. The school joined the Trans America Athletic Conference, later renamed the Atlantic Sun Conference, before moving to the CAA in 2005.
Curry, the former Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky coach, was named Georgia State's first coach in 2008.
"I walked away from the press conference and took about two steps and three guys grabbed me and said 'When are we going to be Division I-A?'" Curry said, adding he has remained aware of fans' interest in a move up to FBS status.
He said he expects an immediate boost in recruiting.
"They feel like if they don't play at the highest level, then they're really missing something, so there's a different kind of athlete we'll be able to attract and we should do a better job recruiting," Curry said. "We like our recruiting but I think we'll like it more."