One of Sun Belt Conference commissioner Wright Waters' favorite sayings is, "It would be nice if everything was tied up in neat little packages, but that isn't always possible."

In the case of Sun Belt basketball, the package looks like it's been rerouted a few times, the ribbon's come off and the contents are spilling out.

"Our quirks are many and varied," is Waters' description of the situation.

How else do you explain a league where teams play a different number of conference games?

That's right.

The six West Division teams play 15 games, and the five East Division teams play 14.

None of the other 30 Division I leagues do that.

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How about the fact that there's no regular-season champion?

The two division winners are recognized as such, but the team with the best overall record gets nothing special. Only the Atlantic-10 has a similar policy. In fact, the seven other conferences with 11 schools don't even bother with divisions.

It doesn't end there.

There are scheduling oddities such as UNO playing four straight conference road games (with a Bracket Buster trip to Louisiana Tech thrown in for good measure) and Arkansas State playing five straight league games on the road.

Finally, the divisions are geographically confused.

UNO and South Alabama are in the West, and Arkansas State and Arkansas-Little Rock, which the last time we checked, are located on the other side of the Mississippi River, are in the East.

Things will get even more out of whack next year when Troy enters the league and New Mexico State departs. Naturally, or unnaturally, the Trojans from south central Alabama will be in the West.

But don't worry.

In 2006, when ULM and Florida Atlantic come aboard, giving the league 13 teams, there will be another realignment with UNO, Louisiana, South Alabama, Troy, Florida International and Florida Atlantic in one division and ULM, Arkansas State, UALR, North Texas, Middle Tennessee State, Western Kentucky and Denver in the other.

ULM might be put into the first group so it is aligned with the two other Louisiana schools.

And the teams will play 18 league games.

That is, unless Denver is able to find membership in a western conference. So far, the Pioneers aren't finding any openings.

"Denver is an outstanding institution and a good member of this league," Waters said. "We understand their geographic issues, and they may find it in their best interest to align with a western league.

"Until then, we are happy to have them."

The funny thing is, though, it all seems to work.

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Ted Lewis