Jan. 4, 2013
BY JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - In the five weeks since Conference USA's future membership was altered again, I have been asked repeated times what the latest membership change might mean for Marshall Athletics.
The unstated inference in the way the question is most often is asked is obvious.
The notion is that a virtual tradeoff of East Carolina and Tulane - bound for whatever the football remnants of the Big East will be called -- for Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic drags the Herd down another notch is the Football Bowl Subdivision packing order.
Well, maybe you might want to read on and think again.
And to be candid about it, does the "pecking order" really matter beyond the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC anyway?
If it's the impending football playoff system you're talking about, everyone else in the so-called "Group of Five" is fighting for one berth in one of the three access bowls (likely Cotton, Fiesta or Chik-fil-A).
The "new" Conference USA will be much more friendly to Marshall than the road the Herd has recently traveled for more reasons that can be determined by a GPS.
Yes, the tilt of C-USA toward the East a bit with the addition of a second Florida school, Old Dominion, Charlotte and Middle Tennessee is a plus for the Herd. When all is said and done, the Herd will be in a C-USA division with five of seven teams in the Eastern time zone.
But in trying to discern how the Herd might fare in a C-USA without the Pirates and Green Wave, it's instructive to go back to the earlier realignment affecting the Herd's league home for 2013-14 and beyond ... then go to the real bottom line.
That's what I did in digging out the 20 university reports for the current and future C-USA members from the U.S. Department of Education's Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA) database (ope.ed.gov/athletics). Athletic departments at the nation's colleges and universities that receive Title IX funding are required by the federal government to file these forms annually.
The most recent numbers are from the 2011-12 (last) school year.
So, why should this matter to the Herd?
Well, if you check the accompanying charts on the 2011-12 expenses - i.e. athletic budgets -- for C-USA present and future, you'll notice the Herd ranks much higher among the future membership than the present 12 C-USA schools - from whom the top five are exiting for the Big Whatever (East).
That can only enhance competitiveness for Marshall, as will new facilities in the plan funded by the Vision Campaign. As Herd Athletic Director Mike Hamrick has pointed out numerous times, financially, as in facilities, the Herd is playing catch-up, no matter whether you're talking C-USA present or future.
It's just that the future grouping doesn't have so much more money to spend as some of the Herd's current foes.
And while some schools figure their EADA filings differently - some including state monies, for example, others not - the numbers do paint a pretty accurate picture of the company you keep.
*Marshall ranked 10th in total athletic expenses among the current 12 C-USA members, spending more than only UTEP and Southern Mississippi. Mixed in with the future members, the Herd is sixth of 14 schools.
(Just for another point of reference, the Herd's $24.021 million in expenses would rank seventh among the 13 football members in the Mid-American Conference.)
*Memphis, SMU, UCF, East Carolina, Houston, Tulsa and Rice all spent at least $6 million more on athletics in 2011-12 than did the Thundering Herd.
*The Herd's $7.133 million expense total for football is the lowest in C-USA. It would rank eighth in the reorganized membership.
*Marshall's $2.448 million men's basketball expenditures were dwarfed (by more than 200 percent) by hoops power Memphis and rank eighth among current members. The Tigers spent about $2.8 million more on men's basketball than any other C-USA school. Marshall would rank seventh in the "new" C-USA in men's basketball expenditures.
*In women's basketball, the Herd was 11th or 12th in spending. A $1.365 million expense would place eighth among 14 in the future alignment.
*Marshall EADA filing showed a $2.39 million profit on athletics (not shown on chart). The only current or future school showing a 2011-12 profit in its program larger than the Herd's EADA figure was FAU, at $3.09 million. Most schools show a zero balance on the forms.
Obviously, some among the new members will increase athletic budgets thanks to more telecast revenue in C-USA than in the Sun Belt or Western Athletic conferences. Charlotte will add football, meaning the 49ers' total budget will grow. ODU will make the jump from FCS to FBS, as UT-San Antonio did this past season, so those numbers will climb, too.
Want another way to look at what these numbers might mean?
Fourteen of the 16 spots in the C-USA football championship in the eight seasons of the game have been filled by teams in the top half in expenditures.
The exception is Southern Miss, which has played in the C-USA title game twice. But it was reported back in October that the Golden Eagles' program owed the university more than $1.2 million for deficits it ran over the past four fiscal years, with a predicted shortfall of $1 million for this school year, too.
It's not just how you play and coach. It's what you spend -- or can afford to spend -- too.
So, other than the real bottom line - dollars and cents - what's the other bottom line in major college athletics? What's the one thing everybody wants to do, the thing everybody feels much better about when it happens?
The numbers say Marshall has a much better chance to do that in a C-USA where the dollars make more sense to the Herd.