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It's official: C-USA grows by five

May. 05, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Quite simply, it had to pass four requirements.

Is it a large university in a growing market? Will it boost the conference's overall competitiveness? Does it make geographical sense? Does it have quality and respected leadership?

Congratulations, Charlotte, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and the University of Texas at San Antonio. You made the grade.

You're now with Marshall University as members of Conference USA.

C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky announced the additions Friday afternoon and later discussed them during a 20-minute teleconference with media members.

The five schools will join the league in all sports for 2013. Charlotte will begin conference participation in football in 2015.

"It's a really great day for us and me," Banowsky said. "It's not often a commissioner can announce the addition of five new members to the conference on the same day. It's a real exciting time for us, here."

In October, Banowsky joined with Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson to speak on terms of a merger between both leagues, potentially combining as many as 20-plus schools.

Six months and some program departures later, it was just Banowsky providing the details on how C-USA acquired five more schools.

He did, however, address the Mountain West situation.

"Our discussions with our good friends from the Mountain West continue," Banowsky said. "Each conference knows that we are much stronger working together than we are working apart.

"What forms the partnership remains to be seen, but please know that we share a lot of things in common, and we continue to work together."

Banowksy said he thinks both sides will have conversations in June, but "it's a process that's going to take a while."

As for the additions, the five programs give C-USA 13, an odd number which doesn't balance out a proposed East and West division.

However, it's not likely to stay that way.

Old Dominion remains reportedly in the mix.

"I'm not going to talk about particular schools," Banowsky said. "You guys can't always believe what you read anymore, particularly with as much media activity as we have these days.

"We are going to take our time. We are going to be thoughtful. We can certainly exist with 13 schools. I think the preference would be to have more than 13, but we're not going to rush it. We want not only for the conference to be comfortable, but for the new institution to be comfortable.

"These are big decisions, and we want to make them thoughtfully and thoroughly and in a well-informed way."

Banowsky stuck a June 30 deadline for further expansion. Why?

"It's about us being able to transition institutions from one conference to another in an orderly way," he said. "Football schedules get made out in advance. Scheduling occurs in other sports way in advance. Other conferences have to make reactionary decisions to the decisions that impacted them.

"To move a university inside of a one-year frame is really very volatile. So much change over a short amount of time is volatile by nature. I think a more orderly approach is better."

The approach to grab the five programs announced Friday came by way of need and exposure, among other things.

Memphis, UCF, SMU and Houston are all leaving C-USA for the Big East Conference following the upcoming athletic year. With it, they're taking the 49th, 19th, 5th and 10th largest media markets in the country.

Adding Charlotte (25th), FIU (Miami, 16th) and UTSA (36th) helps fill that void.

Minus Louisiana Tech, the four other schools have student enrollments of more than 25,000.

"While they're different, each school possesses the same basic attributes," Banowsky said. "They are growing and they are increasingly relevant to their significant and large communities. In each case we asked ourselves, 'Where will they be in 10 and 20 years from now?' And in each case, we really liked and were impressed by the answer."

Competitively, only FIU and Louisiana Tech made bowl games last season. UTSA just started as a Football Bowl Subdivision member last season. Charlotte won't start its football program until 2013. North Texas hasn't touched the football postseason since 2004.

Men's basketball-wise, Charlotte last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 2005, its final year in C-USA before switching to the Atlantic 10. UTSA went to the NCAAs in 2011.

"When you look at some of the history and tradition in some of these programs, there's great stories to tell," Banowsky said. "And then if you look at some of the recent competitive success in these programs, you know that they're on the right trajectory and on the right path.

"We're certainly going to get a competitive lift from this new grouping of institutions."

Then, there was a look from the geographical angle.

Ideally, you could split two divisions into the East with Marshall, East Carolina, UAB, Southern Miss, Charlotte, FIU and possibly Old Dominion and the West with Tulane, Louisiana Tech, Rice, North Texas, UTSA, UTEP and Tulsa.

"We need to connect schools in divisions in a way that makes sense for the fans, for rivalries, but, more importantly, for the student-athletes," Banowsky said. "The initial reaction of many is you have members from North Carolina to El Paso, it doesn't make sense. The truth is divisional regular season scheduling has always been a key for us.

"The bottom line is student-athletes need to be able to get to their competition, and then get back to campus, missing a minimal amount of class. That will certainly happen in this conference, given the grouping of institutions we have brought in and the opportunity for divisional scheduling models."

Finally, Banowky and company needed confidence from those in charge at each institution.

"Ultimately, it's the people that make a great university, and the people that make a great conference," Banowsky said. "We've been blessed over the years with wonderful leadership in this conference. And it is obvious this new group of folks will only make it stronger.

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