No Conference Wins in Realignment – From the Bird’s Nest
On yesterday's edition of "Bird's Eye View" (ESPN1420 and espn1420.com, 3-6pm M-F) we had pretty lengthy discussions about impending announcements in membership for Conference USA and the Sun Belt.
For those who haven't been keeping track, CUSA is expected to add Texas-San Antonio and Louisiana Tech from the WAC, FIU and North Texas from the Sun Belt, Charlotte from the Atlantic-10 and Old Dominion from the CAA.
The Sun Belt has already added Georgia State from the CAA and will add Texas State from the Southland/WAC today. They are also expected to add non-football Texas-Arlington to even out the league as a second non-football school, joining Arkansas-Little Rock.
I got an email from a listener who I know personally and had more than a passing knowledge of college athletics. The gist of his email stated the Sun Belt has taken a step backwards in the area of conference realignment.
Well, guess what? If you aren't one of the big boys, everyone has lost something in the re-shuffling that has been announced in the last year or so.
In fact, only the ACC (adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh), The Big Ten (standing pat after adding Nebraska) and the Pac-12 (also standing pat this go-around) haven't been hurt somewhat by all of this.
The SEC? A coup adding Texas A&M, but let's face it, Mizzou wasn't in the top five on their wish list when talking about a 14th school.
Now, let's look at the other leagues:
Big 12--They lose Missouri and Texas A&M. They add a TCU program they thumbed their nose at for more than a decade and a West Virginia school not close to their geographic footprint. Now, ask this question: Did the Big 12 make itself better? The answer is no.
Big East: One of their flagship programs, Syracuse, along with Pittsburgh and West Virginia depart. Facing a numbers game, the league decides they want to get to a much bigger number. Enter Houston, SMU, UCF and Memphis from Conference USA, along with Temple from the MAC/Atlantic 10. Then the Big East went west...really west...to add San Diego State and Boise State as football only members, and added Navy for football as well.
Did the Big East make itself better? The answer is no. Bigger? Definitely. Unmanageable when you throw in the non football schools? Probably. Better? Not by a long shot.
Now, what about the Mountain West, which is adding Fresno State and Nevada, while losing Boise State and TCU. They're also picking up Hawai'i for football-only. They're also reportedly going to add Utah State and San Jose State from the WAC to get to ten schools.
Has the Mountain West, losing two schools that have made it to BCS bowls in recent history, made itself better? The answer, obviously, is no.
Now, let's look at the league many in the South wanted to be a part of: Conference USA. Memphis, a Final Four team just a few years ago? Gone. Houston, one of the biggest markets in America who flirted with a BCS Bowl Bid just last season? Gone. UCF, great facilities, lots of money, Mickey Mouse, competitive in football and basketball and pretty darned good baseball? Gone. And, SMU, an original member of the Southwest Conference and an excellent academic school? Gone.
Those schools have been replaced by: UTSA, which took its first snap as a football program last year (and wasn't very competitive)....North Texas, a team that's finished with a losing record every year since 2006 (albeit now with a nice new football facility) and no baseball program....FIU, a school that's now just getting around to finishing its football stadium five years after they started the project, absolutely zero fan support and a basketball program that hasn't had a winning season in 12 years....Louisiana Tech, who until last year finished either last or next to last in the WAC all-sports race every year since joining that league. Tiny market (oh, but they deliver Shreveport), substandard fan base and very little money to make anything not named football any better. And, throw in Charlotte (no football, but hey, they did finish last in hoops in the A-10, and Old Dominion, who has a chance to compete right away in some sports but is several years away from FBS football.
Has Conference USA made itself better? Only a fool would suggest they have.
Now, before any of these schools get upset with me, I do admit that CUSA looked very attractive to many of the schools in the Sun Belt. Schools like Rice, Southern Mississippi and Tulsa are schools we'd all like to be affiliated with.
How about the Sun Belt, which is adding a school which has been playing FCS football for only two years (Georgia State) and another which hasn't been very competitive on the FCS level (Texas State.)
Has the Sun Belt taken an immediate step back in football? Yes. But basketball isn't any worse and TSU's spring sports makes baseball and softball better.
But, I've been digressing. Let's go back to that email I got yesterday.
I remember a similar email several years ago when the Sun Belt had to add two schools in order to survive. Utah State, New Mexico State and Idaho decided their future was out west, and the Sun Belt had to move fast or disappear as a football league. The solution was to add Florida Atlantic, who had been in the FCS for just a few years, and FIU, who was just getting football off the ground.
Oh, my gosh. We were doomed. The Sun Belt would always be the laughing stock of college football.
Well, seven years later, both FAU and FIU have won Sun Belt championships. Both have appeared in two bowl games. FAU has a brand new football stadium. Both have been a great boost to baseball.
Consider NMSU and Idaho. Would you rather have them as opposed to the Florida schools?
I didn't think so.
I guess the moral of the story for fans is to have some vision. Perhaps all of the leagues will be able to say they did, in fact, improve themselves with their additions. Not likely, but it certainly happened with the Sun Belt after 2005. And, I think, seven years down the road, given the stability, budget and enrollment of GSU and TSU, we'll be saying, once again, that the new schools have brought plenty to the table and the Sun Belt Conference will do more than just survive.
And, for those fans who wanted to be a part of Conference USA but didn't get the invite.
Cheer up. You could be New Mexico State.