Dec. 1, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - If the recent Conference USA football-centric membership movement were a baseball trade, I'd say Marshall got the better end of the deal.
It really wasn't a swap, but for all intents and purposes, it was Tulane and East Carolina for Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic.
"The Word on the Herd" knows what you're thinking ...
The Pirates, headed to the Big East for football only, are a significant loss to the Marshall faithful, since both teams see themselves as rivals-of-sorts dating to two monumental moments in Herd football history - the last game before a 1970 tragic plane crash that took 75 lives, and an astounding 2001 GMAC Bowl.
OK, so our athletic director, Mike Hamrick, gets together with his buddy, ECU AD Terry Holland, and they create a non-conference home-and-home contract of considerable length, as the Pirates recently did over eight years (2013-20) with Virginia Tech.
That aids the Herd on the non-league side at a time when scheduling has a degree of difficulty it didn't previously. It's a quality date against an opponent in a game that moves fans of both schools to travel to road games, too.
And filling ECU into blanks on non-league schedules that already include Purdue (return game here in 2015), Ohio U., Miami (Ohio), Akron, Navy and Western Kentucky would be attractive to Herd fans.
Other than the loss of the Pirates as a potential annual opponent in league play, what's not to like about what has happened as C-USA kept its "Future 14" by adding the Blue Raiders and second parliament (that's a flock) of Owls?
Starting in 2015, once Charlotte steps up to the FBS level, Marshall football figures to be in a travel-friendly East Division with those 49ers, Old Dominion, Middle Tennessee, UAB, and two south Florida entries, FIU and FAU.
That's six dates of eight C-USA football games annually.
The other side would have Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Rice, Tulsa, UT-San Antonio and UTEP.
Herd fans have squawked about not being able to get to many road games in the "old" C-USA, following Mid-American Conference treks to various Ohio outposts. Now, there's Charlotte and ODU. Middle Tennessee, in Murfreesboro, can bring a trip to nearby Nashville.
In the Tar Heel State, the Herd's alumni base is strong in Charlotte and growing in Raleigh. The burgeoning young alumni numbers in the nation's capital area can get to ODU with a three-hour drive. That Tidewater area of Virginia also is a fertile football recruiting ground.
With FIU and FAU in the Herd's division, it means one trip annually to the Miami area, which has been Coach Doc Holliday's favorite recruiting outpost for years. Think Rakeem Cato, Tommy Shuler, Kevin Grooms, Davonte Allen, A.J. Leggett, Demetrius Evans, Gunnar Holcombe ... I could go on.
The recent school movement within C-USA has made for a definite tilt east, which the Herd appreciates. In losing six members and adding eight, the conference has lost and added two Texas teams, broke even on eastern seaboard teams (ECU and ODU), gained Louisiana Tech instead of Tulane, had one Tennessee school (Middle) replace another (Memphis), and traded one Florida school (UCF) for two (FAU, FIU).
That's a gain of one Sunshine State presence and Charlotte.
There's something else about realignment that aids the Herd, too. Every team that leaves, Marshall and the other C-USA incumbents split an exit fee. The new ones arriving pay a $2 million entrance fee. There's nothing wrong with a revenue bump, especially when you're building $30 million in new facilities through the Vision Campaign.
And if the exits by the previous four teams and ECU and Tulane bring a renegotiation of the league's telecast deals, the Marshalls, UABs and Rices could be in line for payments for damages, too.
There's also a bottom-line to consider. Each of the recent six schools exiting C-USA have larger athletic budgets than does the Thundering Herd. Only two of the eight entering schools (Old Dominion and San Antonio) outspend Marshall.
Who knows if Conference USA is done? There have been rumors flying the last two days about Western Kentucky and New Mexico State having "next" with C-USA, but Commissioner Britton Banowsky has dismissed that chatter, saying he doesn't know its basis.
Completely speculating here, but C-USA could be waiting to see what transpires with the Big East down another avenue, whether the basketball-rooted schools like Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova decide to dissolve the league, or whether Boise State and San Diego State decide to take their football back to the Mountain West, or whether the ACC takes another Big East school.
If so, what happens then to schools like Cincinnati and/or USF, which need a football home? Back to C-USA?
Stranger things have happened ... like Tulane to the Big East.
At this point, Herd Nation should be anything but grouchy or grumbling about FAU and Middle Tennessee joining the party.
It's a good deal for the Herd. Marshall has an opportunity to be a bigger player and a bigger winner - especially with enhanced facilities -- in the future C-USA. And do it closer to home, too.