May 24, 2013
By Jack Bogaczyk
HUNTINGTON – As Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick continues to hit the road for the 2013 Big Green Coaches’ Tour stops, he has plenty of good news to spread.
Hamrick returned from the Conference USA spring meetings in Destin, Fla., last week, and the Thundering Herd spring includes NCAA tournament or championships participation in softball, men’s golf and track and field.
And while the present has been plenty good, the future looks rosy to the fourth-year Herd AD, too. In a Thursday interview in his Shewey Building office, Hamrick discussed what’s ahead in football, soccer and C-USA.
As a prelude to his annual print version of his college football annual, Phil Steele put Marshall at No. 38 in his top 40 earlier this week – just ahead of nos. 39-40 Kansas State and North Carolina, and just behind Nos. 35-37 Tulsa, Baylor and BYU, respectively.
The Herd had a league-best seven players selected to Steele’s 2013 All-Conference USA Preseason first team, out today. East Carolina was next with five, and Tulsa four. Marshall had 16 players spread over four Steele all-league teams (112 total players, 28 per team, including specialists), trailing only East Carolina, with 17. Tulsa and Rice were next with 13.
Steele also forecast an improved Herd defense to play “as much as 2 TDs better” than last year’s defense, and gave Coach Doc Holliday’s club “the elite designation of my No. 1 Most Improved Team in the country.”
“That’s great for us,” Hamrick said. “Phil Steele and his people really do their homework, and usually have a pretty good handle on what’s going to happen. We’re really looking forward to the season. You can just feel the momentum building.”
Hamrick could have said the same about the Herd’s new soccer complex construction site, which the AD toured recently. Recent aerial photos of the old Veterans Memorial Field House location display just how special the 1,000-seat facility will be.
“We’ve told people it was going to be a first-class facility, and now you can see what it’s going to be like. Things are progressing as we expected, and we can’t wait to get out there for our first games in August.”
On the C-USA meetings, Hamrick said the league’s realignment and new members brought a different feel to the gathering on the gulf shores.
Newcomers Charlotte, Old Dominion, UTSA, North Texas, Louisiana Tech, FIU, FAU and Middle Tennessee had representatives in attendance, as did Western Kentucky, which moves into C-USA in 2014-15.
“The meetings were very productive,” Hamrick said. “I sensed an atmosphere or environment of everyone being cooperative with one another. All the decisions made were with one thing in mind, what’s best for C-USA, and making us a competitive, top-notch conference.
“I’m excited about the newcomers and what they bring. Obviously, we’re more of a regional conference for us, very fan-friendly, especially with Charlotte, Old Dominion, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky coming in.
“Last year we had three schools in the Eastern Time Zone (UCF, East Carolina, Marshall). Now, with the changes coming the next two years, we’ll have five teams in the Eastern (Marshall, Charlotte, ODU and the two Florida schools). And Western Kentucky is fewer than 300 miles away from Huntington. Middle Tennessee is less than 400 miles away (in the Central Time Zone).”
Hamrick said much of the working hours at the C-USA meetings were devoted to basketball. The conference ADs approved an increase in the men’s and women’s tournament fields from 12 to 16 to allow all teams to compete in the 2014 tournament at UTEP.
Men’s basketball will play with travel partners in a Thursday-Saturday format, and in a 16-game regular-season schedule, the Herd will play Charlotte twice. That’s a change. Earlier, Old Dominion was expected to be the Herd’s home-and-home intraleague foe.
“Charlotte will be the team we play twice in men’s and women’s basketball, for this year only,” Hamrick said. “We thought earlier it was Old Dominion, but that’s changed. It’s really good for us. It’s a great situation, and that’s a great travel partner for us. We have a very active alumni base and Big Green chapter in Charlotte.”
“We have 16 teams with 16 conference games this season. My hope is when we get to 14 teams a year later (after Western arrives and Tulsa, Tulane and ECU exit), we play in divisions. And you play everybody in your division twice, those in the other division once, for 19 conference games.
“I sensed at the meetings a move toward that direction.”
Besides Marshall-Charlotte, Hamrick said the other travel partner matchups are FAU-FIU, ODU-ECU, Middle-UAB, Tulane-Southern Miss, Rice-UTSA, North Texas-Louisiana Tech and UTEP-Tulsa.
Hamrick said women’s basketball will move from Sunday to Saturday, and the plan would be that the Herd men are home while the women are on the road, and vice versa. If both teams shared a home weekend, one would play an afternoon date and the other at night. Doubleheaders are not in the works.
The conference basketball tournaments will be played over a five-day span in El Paso, Texas. Hamrick said the format is expected to be the same one used by the Big East a couple of years ago when the conference had 16 teams. Seeds 9-16 play in Round 1, with seeds 5-8 getting a bye and seeds 1-4 getting a double bye into the quarterfinals.
Then, he talked the sport he played at Marshall – football.
“I’m very pleased with our TV schedule, with six nationally televised games,” Hamrick said. “And I’m really pleased that we were chosen to be the opening and closing games for CBS Sports Network, with home dates against Miami (Ohio) on Aug. 31 and East Carolina on Nov. 29.
“And it’s great that we have six bowl games this season with the addition of the Military Bowl. The bowl moving to Annapolis, Md. (from RFK Stadium in Washington) is a good one. As a Marshall fan I’d be excited about that potential opportunity.
“We’re still working on future bowls (starting with the 2014 season). They’re all a moving target right now with contracts ending after this coming season.”
Hamrick said he likes the future for C-USA in the sport, as college football leaves behind the Bowl Championship Series after this season and heads into the College Football Playoff era with its contract bowls (semifinals and title game) and host bowls.
“The highest-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences (C-USA, American, Mountain West, Sun Belt, MAC) have an automatic spot in the playoffs starting after the 2014 season,” Hamrick said. “That’s significant. Why is that significant?
“Look at what Northern Illinois did last season (Orange Bowl berth as a BCS buster). Look what Boise State has done, TCU, Utah, Hawaii. So, we do have an opportunity at Marshall University to play in the College Football Playoff, and that’s significant.
The highest-ranked champion from the Group of Five conferences that are not in contract bowls (Rose, sugar, Orange) will be guaranteed a spot in a host bowl (Peach, Cotton, Fiesta) … How many people could we take to a Peach Bowl in Atlanta?
“The point is, we still have access, better access, because there has been no guaranteed spot for C-USA and the others in what will be the Group of Five in the BCS system. The point is, Northern Illinois was 12-1 in the regular-season and still got into a (BCS) bowl with a loss. So, you can get there.”
Hamrick said the revenue in the College Football Playoff will help the Herd, too. Media reports have pegged the Group of Five annual pool at approximately $86 million per season, with a three-tiered distribution system delivering $60 million to be equally divided among the five leagues, and the other $26 to be divvied based on a ranking system and academic performance by teams (via the NCAA’s APR).
“The revenue is significant, more for (C-USA) than the current revenue, but the distribution is still being worked out,” Hamrick said. “We’re still dealing with that.”