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Chuck Landon: Schools playing dominoes vs. C-USA

Jan. 05, 2013 @ 12:50 AM

Britton Banowsky has got to be feeling frustrated.

How could he not?

Every time Conference USA's veteran commissioner plugs a hole, fixes a leak or patches a crack another develops. Banowsky has used more Bondo, duct tape and spackle than a poor man's Bob Vila.

And he might not be finished.

Remember when East Carolina and Tulane announced they were leaving C-USA back on Nov. 27? Remember how the Pirates and Green Wave joined the stampede to the Big East? Remember how Banowsky quickly countered by inviting Middle Tennessee State and Florida Atlantic to join C-USA?

It was a prime example of "The Domino Effect" where every action has a reaction.

But what happens if the dominoes un-fall?

What then?

That is precisely the premise Banowsky and C-USA just might be facing.

What if East Carolina and Tulane take a hard, honest look at a Big East Conference that has been gutted like a mackerel and decide it isn't worth leaving C-USA?

It is a distinct possibility.

"East Carolina and Tulane haven't formally withdrawn from Conference USA," said Courtney Morrison-Archer, C-USA's Assistant Commissioner for Public Affairs. "They have one full year to do that."

That window of opportunity has been closed and the sill nailed shut for the initial four defectors -- UCF, Memphis, Houston and SMU. They have formally withdrawn from C-USA and as a result are stuck in the Big East like dinosaurs in the La Brea Tar Pits.

The quartet has no recourse but to join the Big East in time for the 2013 football season.

Where else are they going to go?

But East Carolina and Tulane have options. They can stay put. They can renege on their informal agreements to join the decimated Big East and save themselves $9.5 million apiece.

That ain't chump change, folks.

Imagine paying C-USA an exit fee of $7 million and, then, giving the Big East an additional $2.5 entrance fee just to make what has become a lateral move.

That's the dollars and sense of it.

C-USA and the Big East weren't on a par when East Carolina and Tulane announced their intentions back on Nov. 27, but they are now.

Since then, the seven basketball-only members of the Big East (Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's, Marquette, DePaul, Providence and Seton Hall) have left, rather than allowing Tulane to destroy their individual RPIs.

Next, Boise State reneged on joining the Big East for football-only when the Mountain West offered a University of Texas-like television deal if the Broncos would stay. Now, San Diego State and Navy are expected to follow suit and not join the faltering league.

That would leave the decimated Big East with a lineup of Cincinnati, UConn, South Florida, Temple, UCF, Memphis, SMU and Houston in 2014.

Why would East Carolina and Tulane join that league? Is that Big East $9.5 million better than C-USA? Is it even a penny better?

East Carolina and Tulane would be foolish to join the Big East now. Of course, that would create another problem for Banowsky. He can't un-invite Middle Tennessee State and FAU.

So, C-USA would become a 16-team league, whether it wants to or not.

In football, it would have an East Division of Marshall, East Carolina, UAB, FIU, FAU, Old Dominion, Charlotte and Middle Tennessee. The West would include Tulsa, UTEP, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and UT-San Antonio.

Sounds good to me.

It's your move, East Carolina and Tulane.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2827 or clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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