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What next for Conference USA?

Tuesday, Conference USA commissioner Britt Barnowsky issued a statement on Tulane and East Carolina leaving for the Big East:

“We thank East Carolina and charter member Tulane for all their contributions to the league and wish them well. These are unprecedented times in higher education. Notwithstanding the changes, we are excited about our future and we remain committed to our strategic plan - a major market, two-division conference that is student-athlete friendly.

“To be clear, we have several options but no new member agreements have been made at this time. We appreciate the support of our members and will immediately begin a presidentially led process to evaluate our future options.”

Totalling the losses from its current structure for Conference USA (with TV market): Central Florida (Orlando market), Memphis (Memphis, duh) Houston (the big college dog in Houston, leaving C-USA with private, academically superior Rice), SMU (Dallas), Tulane (New Orleans) and East Carolina (Greenville-New Bern-Washington).

Total gains: FIU (Miami-Fort Lauderdale), North Carolina-Charlotte (guess), North Texas (Dallas-Fort Worth), Texas-San Antonio (obvious), Louisiana Tech (Shreveport), Old Dominion (Norfolk).

Losing Tulane hurts C-USA as much in recruiting as television. No state produces more talent per capita than Louisiana so nobody gripes about being in a conference with a presence in or around Louisiana's largest city. All six FIU players from Louisiana are from the New Orleans area. Louisiana Tech's at the other end of the state, in Ruston. Recently, Tulane's been a dream conference pal for football -- a bad team in a talent thick area. The school recently threw some big money at its athletic facilities, so a turnaround might be in order.

Nobody knows East Carolina, but ECU draws better than Central Florida and FIU put together in football (and they're going in as football only). Those sighing over the death of Big East football, an accidental child a decade after the conference's birth as a made-for-TV basketball group, can turn up their noses at Tulane and East Carolina. C-USA will look back longingly while looking forward.

So, C-USA, where to next? If you want to talk "student-athlete friendly" you want a school near one of your current schools to cut down on days missed by weekday travel and save on total travel costs. FAU, in the nation's No. 38 TV market, would get a look. And there can't be an Owlman or Owlwoman happy that now their nearest Sun Belt rival is Georgia State, in Atlanta.

They're losing Memphis. Four hours away in Tennessee is Middle Tennessee State, officially in Murfreesboro. Still, that's closer to Nashville than, say, downtown Miami is to the DDT Center or whatever the Panthers arena is named these days. Middle's got strong programs in football and the basketballs. And it would give Alabama-Birmingham a closer playmate.

So, don't be surprised if the next poaching of the Sun Belt involves those FAU and Middle.




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