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Thursday, April 21, 2005

By Henry Hinton

'Commish' talking up league's prospects

Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky (right) made the rounds in Greenville on Wednesday. It was his first visit to East Carolina University since succeeding Mike Slive as commissioner 2½ years ago.
(Photo: C-USA)



Replay the audio archive of Wednesday's Talk of the Town with Henry Hinton, which featured an interview with Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky:  Select clip

It took a while but Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky finally found his way to Greenville.

The commish was in Clark-LeClair Stadium last night for the East Carolina-N.C. State game. He could not help the Pirates on the field (ECU lost 3-0) but Banowsky did bring encouraging news from the home office.

One may get the feeling that Banowsky was visiting Greenville to deliver two resounding messages. One, C-USA is alive and well and will survive the recent reshuffle that saw some of its marquee’ schools exit; and, two, East Carolina is an important part of the league, which wants the Pirates to stay in the family.

Prior to last night the commissioner had never attended an ECU event since taking over the helm of the league in October of 2002. He had planned a trip a month ago but it was cancelled due to a death in his family.

The former Big 12 associate commissioner has a law degree, a distinction shared by his predecessor, Mike Slive, now the boss of the Southeastern Conference.

Banowsky has also been the head man for the Southland Conference.

Although he jokes that all he does is hand out conference trophies, the commissioner oversees a staff of 18 people who do everything for the league.

Since arriving on the C-USA scene, things have been anything but steady for Banowsky. He was immediately met with an exodus of high profile programs, but let little grass grow under his feet before moving forward to reset the league.

“I think we’re in a stable mode right now,” Banowsky said on Talk 1070 and Cable 7 Wednesday afternoon. “We did a lot of expansion and realignment and now fortunately we are now moving into a place where we can implement some of the changes.

"I can tell you from my perspective and most of the perspectives of our members it’s been a very exciting time for us. We’ve added some new markets and new schools. They are very pumped about coming into the league.”

Since taking over, Banowsky has reformatted the conference into two divisions. The western division has a southwest flavor with new members Texas-El Paso, Southern Methodist, Rice and Tulsa joining holdovers Houston and Tulane.

The eastern division features East Carolina, Memphis, UAB, Southern Miss and new members Marshall and Central Florida.

The two divisions will play a football championship game for the first time at the end of this upcoming season.

The changes in basketball are dramatic with the high profile programs headed out. Banowsky acknowledges the losses but sees a silver lining.

“Some people might say we’ve taken a little bit of a step back in men’s basketball but I can tell you across the board in all other programs we feel like we’ve taken a step forward,” he said.

The commissioner puts to rest any rumors that include more expansion, including recent ones about potential baseball-only members coming on board.

“You know I don’t see that happening, to tell you the truth,” says Banowsky. “Our baseball program, I can tell you across the conference, is as good as any in the country. I’d put it up against any of the other baseball programs.

"When you think of Tulane, which has been ranked number one in the country, (and) we’ve added Rice, which won the national championship a couple of years ago. East Carolina is always going to be strong. Southern Miss is always going to be strong. Houston is a very good program. I mean, we’re in a baseball program that is always going to be very competitive.”

Banowsky admits that the recent run by Rick Pitino’s Louisville basketball team all the way to Final Four will mean big bucks to be divvied up across the league. However if Banowsky knows the exact number he is not ready to reveal it.

“I can’t tell you a precise number but I can tell you it is significant though,” he said. “The way the NCAA revenue system works is when a team leaves a conference, it leaves behind the value of the units it has earned in the NCAA Tournament. And those units are a function of the CBS contract and it is highly lucrative, so I think it is fair to say the conference is going to receive a bit of a windfall from the success Louisville had this year in basketball.”

Perhaps the biggest victory of his still-young tenure as commissioner is the recently announced television deal for C-USA, which expands the coverage from ESPN-only to add the newly formed College Sports Television Network.

The new deal increases the exposure of the conference across the nation and gives sports other than football and basketball coverage on CSTV.

“We’ve really had a wonderful outcome with our television situation,” Banowsky said. “We’re going to be okay over the new term for six years, possibly even longer. I think it’s safe to say we’ll be generating as much or more revenue and having many many more games on TV.

"We’ve created a non-exclusive environment. In the past we’ve been in an exclusive arrangement with ESPN. Now we’ll get the best of both worlds. We’ll have our ESPN deal with the same number of football games on, but in addition we’ll get all the other wonderful stories and events off the shelf and give them to a competitor of ESPN. So, we’re very happy about the television situation and consider it an improvement over where we are right now.”

Of course all is not a bed of roses for the new commissioner. Banowsky has taken up the need for C-USA to get a place at the table for the Bowl Championship Series, perhaps the most controversial of all issues facing college football.

The ever-positive Banowsky even sees that glass half full, with recent discussions leading to some incremental changes for programs outside the BCS conferences.

“There have been a lot of developments that haven’t been implemented yet,” said Banowsky. “ Agreements have been reached that we’re going to implement not this next season, but the following season. You know the bottom line for me is that I want all our coaches in our league to be able to tell their student-athletes that if you have a great season and you go undefeated there is a chance you can play in one of the highest bowls, including the BCS bowls.

"We’ve had Tulane and Marshall, but in the past you had to be in the Top 6 in the final rankings. As you know, this past year Utah, from the Mountain West, finally broke through and played in the Fiesta Bowl and played very well out there. Going forward, the access will be more at 12 and in some cases 16, so I think a coach can tell a student if we go undefeated there is a good chance we can be there. That’s really what we’re striving for.”

In addition to meetings with ECU Director of Athletics Terry Holland and his staff, taking in the baseball game and visiting with fans in Clark-LeClair Stadium, Banowsky will receive a visit on Thursday from a host of community leaders and get a tour of campus as he continues to get to know more about East Carolina.


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02/23/2007 10:16:16 AM

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