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Expansion not on C-USA radar

By Denny O'Brien
All rights reserved.

NEW ORLEANS — A familiar topic resurfaced at the annual Conference USA football media blitz, one that commissioner Britton Banowsky and many of the league’s coaches thought was put to rest three years ago.

With rumors circulating that the Big Ten is pondering an increase in membership to 12, questions again arose about C-USA’s future:

If the Big Ten raids the Big East or another conference, will there be a domino effect on C-USA? Is C-USA proactively planning for the possibility that another round of conference upheaval is on the horizon?

And even if another league doesn’t ignite the next expansion inferno, is C-USA currently considering the possibility of expanding to 16?

Those were just a few of the questions Banowsky and C-USA’s coaches addressed Tuesday morning in New Orleans.

“It’s interesting because the Big Ten hasn’t done anything in terms of realignment for a long time,” Banowsky said. “And my sense is that the rationale would be focused on trying to grow the Big Ten Network.

“Whether or not there’s a fit for the Big Ten remains to be seen. Whether or not Notre Dame is a part of that discussion remains to be seen. I’m not concerned about it.”

Expansion was the topic of a recent story published in USA Today, which stated that the Big Ten’s new television network could motivate the league to extend its footprint. A new member would add more interested viewers and the potential for increased revenue.

Notre Dame, Rutgers, and Syracuse are believed the likely targets should the Big Ten expand, each of which would put a dent in the Big East’s membership. And though Banowsky isn’t concerned about the future, he did acknowledge the chain reaction effect that could occur in that expansion scenario.

“I know that this could impact the Big East, theoretically,” Banowsky said. “There might be a domino effect, but I don’t lose any sleep over it.

“I visited as late as this past week with Mike Tranghese and the Big East, and he tells me that relative to our (C-USA) members, there’s nothing going on. There has not been any connection at all between their activities and our membership.”

But what if the Big Ten does expand and C-USA is not impacted? Does that mean the league will stay with its current configuration of 12 schools divided into two divisions?

East Carolina athletics director Terry Holland has proposed a scenario in which C-USA expands to 16 and further regionalizes the geographically widespread league. That idea is no doubt motivated by the desire to reduce travel expenses and develop a tighter regional setup.

However that isn’t something that C-USA is seriously considering at this time. In fact, Banowsky is quite comfortable with the status quo.

“If we felt like there were universities that would add great value to what we are trying to do here, then that’s something that we probably would look at,” Banowsky said. “But I can tell you that, for the most part, our members are very comfortable with the group we have and trying to build on what we have before we go out and try to reinvent ourselves.

“Frankly, I think most people are very comfortable with the structure we have, the membership we have, and the commitments that our members are making to building successful programs. I think that’s our focus. Our focus is 100 percent on how we move these 12 universities to a higher point.”

Tommy West agrees. The outspoken Memphis coach thinks C-USA’s current setup is too new for a dramatic makeover, and he also isn’t sure if there are four programs that would improve the league’s profile.

“I think in two more years when everybody has played everybody, then I think you can kind of judge – make an assessment of where the league is,” West said. “Right now I don’t know what the need for moving to 16 would be.

“I think right now we should put our emphasis on making this league as strong as we can. It’s just hard for me to imagine four teams out there who would help this league.”

East Carolina coach Skip Holtz doesn’t have a strong opinion on the matter. Though he does acknowledge the geographic challenges ECU and its league brethren face, he is content with leaving those decisions with conference and school administrators.

“I don’t know,” Holtz said. “I know that it is difficult for everybody from Dallas to Marshall to turn and develop a lot of geographical rivalry games.

“I think Terry’s concept is to keep it together, just expand the East a little bit more so we can develop the regional games here, develop the (West), and then come together. I don’t know. I use the theory coaches coach, players play, administrators administrate. I don’t know if it could work, but I understand why he’s talking about bringing that up.”

Regardless, the message at the C-USA football kickoff on conference realignment is clear. It’s not being seriously discussed – and it likely won’t be unless C-USA is impacted by another league’s expansion.

08/01/2007 03:24:50 AM


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