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C-USA, Herd Look Forward with New Schools

Marshall AD Mike Hamrick

Jan. 26, 2013

By Jack Bogaczyk


HUNTINGTON – Some have suggested Conference USA needs a very large crystal ball to divine its future. Others have suggested a GPS.

Earlier this week at winter meetings in Miami – Did the Weather Channel pick the site? – C-USA and its members concentrated on nailing down the present.

The past is the past. The future? Who knows?

“We’re moving forward,” Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick said after his return from the C-USA meetings. “We have wonderful new additions to our conference, in good markets. The realignment is very positive for Marshall and we got a lot accomplished.”

And although the meetings weren’t held in our chilly climes here, there was a flurry of activity, much of it surrounding changes to schedules thanks to the C-USA admission of FAU and Middle Tennessee a year earlier than originally expected.

With eight new members for 2013-14 and four teams leaving after this school year, followed by East Carolina and Tulane exiting for 2014-15, C-USA will have more new faces than incumbents Marshall, Southern Miss, UAB, Rice, UTEP and Tulsa.

So, how to create schedules for a 14-team football league in 2013 and a 16-team basketball group for 2013-14 – including Old Dominion and Charlotte – in hurried fashion?

“Glad you asked that,” Hamrick said. “What was unique about it was Alfred White (C-USA associate commissioner and football operations chief) used a computer and ran 17,000 versions to be able to put the football schedule together.

“Then he had to consider the needs of the conference and what TV might want to consider, and requests of the institutions. It’s a one-year, stand-alone schedule. It might look totally different in 2014.

“What we have is favorable and exciting for our program. We’re looking forward to working with our new members.”

White said “fortunately there was a precedent’ for what he was trying to do because C-USA has done it previously after an earlier realignment, and the SEC did a 14-school football schedule in quick order after years at 12, when Texas A&M and Missouri joined for 2012-13.

“You’re dealing with the traffic in and out of the conference,” White said, “and what you’re trying to do is make the schedule as fair and balanced as possible, and do it in a fashion that meets the needs of our TV partners.

“And we tried to minimize as many matchups as possible at the same place (as games were played in 2012). We’ll be doing that as much as possible for the next period of schedules, too.”

It meant altering the C-USA scheduling format from five league foes and three cross-division foes to a 6-2 setup.

So, the Herd gets East Carolina, Southern Miss and UAB at Edwards Stadium after going to those schools in 2012, and also has UT-San Antonio coming to Huntington. Marshall visits three East Division newcomers (FAU, FIU, Middle Tennessee) and also treks to defending champion Tulsa.

“We’d like to be able to flip the home-and-aways, as we have in the past, in 2014,” White said, “but a lot of that might depend on what the divisions are in 2014, and we have Old Dominion coming in (as a football member) and East Carolina and Tulane leaving.”

Before the admission of FAU and Middle for 2013, Marshall’s expected a home football schedule of ECU, Southern miss, UAB and North Texas, with FIU, Tulane, UTEP and Louisiana Tech on the road.

There has been some grousing in the “Herd World” about Marshall having to play Tulsa for a third straight year – and on the road – but although White and Hamrick didn’t address that issue, there’s an obvious reason for it, considering what both men said in aforementioned quotes. Think about it …

The Golden Hurricane and the Herd – with much of its offensive firepower personnel back and what figures to be a much-improved defense under new coordinator Chuck Heater -- are expected to be serious C-USA contenders in opposite divisions.

That game could be one of the marquee matchups that TV has requested. TV likes offense … and recall it was 45-38 Tulsa (with 912 yards total offense combined) at “The Joan” this season.

White said he expects to deliver a 2013 football schedule with Saturday dates to C-USA schools within a week, because that’s the TV partners’ deadline. Then, Fox Sports and CBS Sports Network decide which games they want moved for telecast … and if Marshall is viewed as a contender in the restructured league, expect a Thursday night date or two, too.

As for the widely reported opinion that Tulsa might leave the league for the Big East after 2013-14, C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky was matter-of-fact on that at the recent meetings, too.

“We want you to be part of the conference and respectful of the conference as long as you want to be here,” Banowsky said. “If you have a better opportunity, we understand that … If they’re with us for 2014, that’s terrific because we love those guys and we have a lot of respect for them. If they decide to realign with some of the private schools in the Southwest because of some connections that have gone back a ways, that’s all right, too.”

Hamrick said those sentiments are echoed throughout the conference after what he called “very productive” meetings.

And with the addition of schools top 50 TV markets like Miami, Charlotte, Nashville, San Antonio and Norfolk, C-USA school markets starting in 2013-14 will include 14.5 million TV homes, up from the current 10.1 million homes – and nine top 50 markets, up from the current five.

“Our new alignment from a market standpoint is really good,” Hamrick said. “It’s a chance for Marshall to get into more homes, and the new members give us more regional (games), for our fan base to go on the road.”

White said C-USA will continue to have divisional play and scheduling that makes sense geographically -- “student-athlete (minimizing missed class time) and fan friendly” and cost effective.

White and Hamrick didn’t try to predict what divisional setup might be used in football beyond the 2013 season, but in 2014 – if Tulsa stays – the league will have 15 teams. Using geography as a basis, Southern Miss could stay in an eight-team East, or slide to the West right away because in 2015, Charlotte will become a football player in the East.

Then, if Tulsa exits, another school could even be added to get back to 16 members.

It’s like Banowsky said: “My sense is that we're all set for 2013. In fact, I know we're all set for 2013. What happens in 2014, I don't know."

Other gleanings from the C-USA winter meetings:

*C-USA will stick with a 16-team basketball schedule for 2013-14, with the 16 schools playing 14 teams once and one foe home-and-home. Those “double ups” -- pretty much geography based -- are Marshall-Old Dominion, East Carolina-Charlotte, FIU-FAU, Middle Tennessee-UAB, Southern Miss-Tulane, Louisiana Tech-North Texas, Tulsa-Rice and UTEP-UTSA.

*The 2014 C-USA basketball tournaments will be played in El Paso.

Banowsky’s template for C-USA is rooted to “target large markets, growth markets. We want universities that have their best days ahead in terms of potential, that have invested in facilities, that are gearing up and getting ready to go, and then we give them a stage and platform to participate.”

His is a different Vision Campaign than the one Marshall is conducting to build the kind of facilities to help the Herd be more than competitive among its new C-USA brethren, but it’s a lot the same.

Looking in your rear-view mirror won’t help you get where you want – and need – to go.