July 1, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Happy New Year!
My calendar is not off by six months. And I’m not just speaking fiscally in delivering those new year wishes.
It should be a Happy New Year for Marshall, because today the Thundering Herd gets eight new partners in Conference USA.
Memphis, UCF, Houston and SMU are gone to “the American,” to be followed a year from now by East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa.
Charlotte, Old Dominion, FIU, FAU, Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and UT-San Antonio are in, to be joined in 365 days by Western Kentucky.
You can argue whether C-USA’s move from 12 teams to 16 and back to 14 makes for a better Division I league. There is no question, however -- in the eyes of this grizzled, bespectacled, ink-stained knight of the keyboard -- that the revamped C-USA is much better for the Herd.
That’s why, eight years after Marshall moved from the Mid-American Conference to C-USA, Herd fans should celebrate.
It’s overdue, because for eight long school years, it seems to me that some Herdheads have spent far too much time pining for a return to the MAC.
Maybe the MU athletic staff had a picnic back on July 1, 2005, to mark the move to C-USA. Some Herd fans, however, have often yawned about the affiliation. So, with C-USA doing its amoeba act today, it’s a good time for the Herd to really get on board.
Many of the new C-USA arrivals are having celebrations to mark their C-USA arrival today. Shoot, Middle Tennessee is so up in the air about it, the Blue Raiders will have an airplane with streamer announcing the move flying over the Nashville/Murfreesboro region part of the day.
North Texas will hitch the celebration its C-USA move to the annual Fourth of July fireworks show in Denton, Texas, hosting the event at UNT’s Apogee Stadium. The Mean Green will use its stadium video board to educate fans on the new affiliation.
As MU athletic directors – Bob Marcum then, Mike Hamrick now – have said a gazillion times in eight years, C-USA is a much better deal than the MAC financially. Their reference point has been and is revenue sharing in the conferences.
Well, the new C-USA is more financially friendly to Marshall for another reason, in the athletic budgets of the members.
Of the seven schools exiting C-USA now, only Tulane didn’t spend at least $7 million more on athletics (in 2011-12, the last year complete figures are available from the feds) than did Marshall.
With the new grouping, the Herd will stand in the top five or six in C-USA in athletic budgeting, not in the bottom three.
Translated, it means the Herd has a better shot at being more competitive than in recent years, when it was – for one example -- trying to beat a Memphis men’s basketball program that was spending more than triple on the sport at Marshall, or trying to win in football spending $6.5 million less than UCF.
Then, there’s the $2 million each new member must pay to join the conference -- $18 million total in term payments or revenue sharing reductions in coming years. Those dollars will be split in some fashion among the remaining programs, giving the Herd some additional green.
There’s also the friendlier geography for the Herd in the “new” C-USA – where the loss of an ECU as a Herd “rival” is offset by the Charlotte, ODU, Middle and WKU moves.
I understand some of the Marshall/MAC mindset that lingers. The Herd won big in the MAC in the marquee sport of football, went to bowls and won, too. Well, Coach Doc Holliday’s fourth-year program seems primed for success in C-USA now.
Overall, Marshall has a chance to be one of the “faces” of the new C-USA, where a year from now the Herd will be an incumbent with Rice, UAB, Southern Miss and UTEP.
But some of that potential “clout” is going to be up to Herd supporters. Big Green membership and dollars need to grow, too, as well as the number of fans in Edwards Stadium and the Henderson Center.
Being in the new AAC isn’t better for the Herd. The telecast dollars there won’t be much greater than in C-USA. The schools – led by UConn, Cincinnati and Memphis after a one-year hiatus year for ACC-bound Louisville – will have much more to spend on sports than does than Marshall.
And both leagues are part of the so-called “Group of Five,” with the erstwhile Big East losing its seat at the BCS table that folds its legs after this season.
The following hasn’t been mentioned, either … but C-USA’s presence on the tube will be enhanced this season when Fox Sports – one of the conference rights-holders – changes the Speed channel to Fox Sports 1 in mid-August.
That will send selected C-USA games to larger audiences. Marshall’s two Thursday road dates this season – at Middle Tennessee and Tulsa – will be on FS1, which will make its debut in 90 million telecast homes.
The Herd also is ready to improve its lot at home with a new soccer stadium opening in August and the Indoor Athletic Facility, scheduled to open in 14 months. And first-year Huntington Mayor Steve Williams is talking seriously about a Huntington baseball park for the Herd.
Marshall took big steps this past year toward a future of promise.
Softball won only the school’s second C-USA Tournament title and made an NCAA regional appearance. The track team had its best C-USA finish (fifth) and had NCAA nationals qualifiers and scorers. It had a C-USA football MVP and men’s soccer co-MVP. There was an NCAA men’s golf regional qualifier, a first-round Major League Baseball Draft pick and an NFL second-round pick.
Thinking back, I understand why the Herd’s 2005 move into Conference USA wasn’t appreciated with perhaps as much fanfare as is being shown by some of today’s new members.
Marshall’s official conference move was less than four months following the sudden resignation of football Coach Bob Pruett in March ’05. Then, on May 17, 2005, the Herd became really preoccupied when then-Gov. Joe Manchin brokered a Marshall-desired, seven-game football contract between the Herd and West Virginia.
Compared to those events, joining a conference in which Marshall had no strong connections other than East Carolina was a bottom-of-page story.
Things are different now. Marshall is established in C-USA, if not yet the across-the-board winner Herd fans would like. The promise is much greater, however, with an indoor facility and the membership changes.
And for those who want to walk down memory lane, well, upcoming non-conference football schedules include four MAC teams. Next season (2014), the non-league schedule includes Ohio, Akron and Miami of Ohio … call it the Herd’s big MAC combo.
It’s time – overdue, really – for all Herd supporters to “get into” C-USA. The time is right, just as the league’s geography and finances are right for the Herd.
There was a Gershwin tune – sort of -- that describes what I mean:
“Embraceable U … S … A.”