September 25 2003
Conference USA easier path to Big East for Herd
Jack Bogaczyk <email@example.com>
Daily Mail columnist
The dominoes falling in major college football had been a faint echo in Huntington. Now, they've landed -- and Conference USA will be on Marshall's doorstep soon.
C-USA, about to lose four members to Big East expansion and a pair of solid basketball programs to the Atlantic 10, needs to prop up its profile.
The Thundering Herd fits into the picture, but Marshall must be careful how the cards are played.
In the fall of 2001, Marshall was seemingly a C-USA expansion target.
A conference source says the league's presidents never formally voted on the Herd, because Marshall was only going to get 11 of 15 votes.
It needed 12.
So, potential expansion was tabled and deferred. Marshall was willing to pay the price of admission and deal with the added expense of travel in a league that stretches from North Carolina to Texas.
The Herd still is ready.
The question Marshall must ask before it tries to leap from the Mid-American Conference isn't simply whether it has the needed votes, but just how serious is what will be an all-sports C-USA about making a commitment to its potential.
C-USA will lose an overwhelming amount of its basketball profile when Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette and DePaul head to the big East, and the Atlantic 10 grows with Saint Louis and Charlotte.
That's why Tulsa is in the C-USA expansion mix. You're looking at what has been a 4-5 NCAA Tournament bid league becoming a perennial two-bid conference. Tulsa helps the hoops profile.
Conference USA, also losing Army football to independence, wants four of these five -- Marshall, Central Florida, Tulsa, SMU and Rice. The quartet would join East Carolina, Memphis, South Florida, Tulane, Southern Mississippi, Houston, Alabama-Birmingham and TCU.
There is talk that the Big East is considering South Florida or UCF as a potential ninth member for football only.
That's a hedge against the possibility of Boston College still bolting its longtime home to become the ACC's 12th member.
Yes, that still could happen.
The MAC will not flinch if UCF -- a league member only in football -- exits for C-USA.
You can't fault a school for seeking a more lucrative, all-sports membership.
Marshall, however, would tear at the MAC's growing football presence if it leaves. The ramifications for MAC renegotiations of television opportunities and bowls without the Herd would be problematic.
However, if Conference USA calls, the Herd needs to move. Although no one can say for sure what will constitute the Bowl Championship Series after 2005, Marshall can get where it wants to go -- the Big East -- easier from C-USA than from the MAC.
It's all about perception, about reputation. The MAC is hot and is superbly run from the administration in Cleveland, but C-USA plays in major markets.
Its football homes, with potential expansion, include the Superdome, Raymond James Stadium, the Citrus Bowl and the Liberty Bowl. ECU is a solid draw.
If nothing else, Marshall must consider the more-lucrative possibilities.
C-USA has five bowl ties (Liberty, GMAC, Fort Worth, Hawaii and New Orleans). The MAC has two (Motor City and GMAC).
Last season, Conference USA received $5.75 million in bowl payouts. The MAC received $2.6 million.
C-USA has 11 ESPN/ESPN2 home telecasts in football this season. The MAC has five.
C-USA is in the third season of an eight-year, $84 million deal for football and basketball with ESPN/ESPN2. The MAC starts a five-year, $3 million deal for the same next season.
Would a home football schedule of ECU, South Florida, Memphis and SMU for Marshall sell more season tickets than Toledo, Kent State, Ohio and Akron?
"I don't think it would sell any less (than the current 12,000)," a Herdhead said Wednesday.
For whatever reasons, BCS conference schools are less reluctant to visit C-USA sites than MAC stadiums. Marshall will have a much better idea of financially what's possible after the C-USA athletic directors meet Oct. 6-7 to hash out future revenue sharing.
It may come down to who must pay what to whom to get into or out of conferences, and who gets to vote on what or whom.
The feeling here is that Marshall knows where it is going.
With a stronger athletic administration and more football bargaining power than it had two years ago, the Herd is ready to move.
The Bear may be dead but he still hates Tennessee. Roll Damn Tide