Conference USA -- or Sun Belt 2010 Plus now that Western Kentucky joins this year -- put Commissioner Britt Banowsky and the West Division at the interview tables first at Wednesday football Media Day. The East Division, which includes your FIU Gilded Panthers, got sent to the live streaming interview room and take their seat at the tables later.
Barnowsky, who joked that Conference USA could be part of the group of mid-major conferences called The Second Five, said he thought conference realignment now would settle down: "There are better legal structures to hold conferences together. The idea that conference membership is like a country club membership, when you can leave when you want, is over."
Rivalries can develop. Athletes can know who's actually in their conference. None of the players I asked could name the Conference USA schools. North Texas' Derek Akunne came the closest, missing only Charlotte. After a handshake that left my right hand feeling like Fred Sanford's hand looked when he claimed his "ar-thur-itis" was acting up, Louisiana Tech's Tony Johnson got four schools then began looking around at the signs on the interview tables for hints.
None were ashamed -- nor should they be -- by that inability. They were amused, knowing it's more a commentary on the bed switching that's dominated college sports the last few years. The Rice players lamented they no longer play former Conference USA school Houston, 10 to 15 minutes down the road, and couldn't believe FIU didn't play the University of Miami ("You have to play that game.").
Barnowsky also said a new football helmet designed to redistribute a collision's impact so the brain doesn't take the full stress of the violence is in development at Alabama-Birmingham. He estimates a year at least before development's finished.
Instead of dropping a helmet from a height until it cracks, which Barnowsky described as the way current helmets were developed, are reaching for greater realism.
"(Dropping a helmet) doesn't in any way simulate what's happening on the field," Barnowsky said. "What the folks at UAB are doing is recreating what happens on the field through high technical video. Then, they're programming the dummies and sleds to reenact exact hits, such as the big hit in The Iron Bowl, Alabama-Auburn, where the kid got knocked out. Then, they measure the impact through sensors inside the dummies. We're excited to partner with them on that project. The person who's doing it, Dean Sicking, developed the crash wall for NASCAR after the (Dale) Earnhardt (fatal) crash."
Pick your bigger Conference USA 2013 surprise: Rice winning the conference or Texas-San Antonio, in its third season of football, going 7-5 overall and 6-2 in the conference. I asked head coach Larry Coker what factors put the zoom in the Roadrunners program development.
"I think we have an excellent staff," Coker said. "Texas high school football, recruiting. No Division I football in San Antonio. The Alamodome is a great place to recruit to. Honestly, myself having won a national championship -- not that that gets anybody -- but I think it gets their attention. They say, 'Maybe if this guy believes in it, we can believe in it, too.'"
Coker also said this was the first time he was at a school with good facilities.