CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Big East plucked two more schools from Conference USA on Tuesday, landing the football program with the league's top fan base and the athletic program with one of the most sluggish.
Tulane University announced that it will join the ever-changing Big East in all sports on July 1, 2014. A few hours later, East Carolina University announced its football program, which nearly fills a 50,000-seat stadium on a regular basis, will migrate at the same time.
Tulane, which is strongest in baseball, provides the most curious case in the current wave of conference realignment. The Green Wave football program has the worst record in C-USA's current lineup, 22-73 overall and 13-51 in league play, the latter mark nine games worse than the next lowest.
Its listed home attendance at the Superdome, 18,085, is probably exaggerated. When Marshall played at Tulane in 2009, the listed gate of 28,312 was at least quadruple the number of live bodies in the building.
In men's basketball, the Green Wave has had one winning season in league play since 2000, and its listed attendance last season was 2,253 per home date - visitors to the ancient Fogelman Arena say said those figures also are inflated.
But Tulane president Scott Cowen gave an update Tuesday on the school's $125 million in facility improvements, including a new football stadium and the ongoing renovations to the arena, now renamed Devlin Fieldhouse. He defended his school's athletic record, noting successful seasons prior to the 2005 devastation from Hurricane Katrina.
Cowen said his athletic department won more C-USA championships before Katrina than any other school, most notably the undefeated football season of 1998.
"Once we recovered financially and academically, we invested heavily in athletics,'' he said.
East Carolina is much more competitive in football, on the field and in the stands. Conference champions in 2008 and 2009, ECU has led C-USA in attendance every year since 2008, exceeding its 50,000-seat capacity in 2011. After beating Marshall 65-59 in overtime last weekend to improve to 8-4, the Pirates are heading to their sixth bowl game in the last seven years.
Under C-USA bylaws, the Pirates must exit the conference entirely, leaving ECU to find a place for its other 18 sports. Members of the Colonial Athletic Conference before entering C-USA in two phases, the Pirates could well be ticketed for the Southern Conference, which wouldn't be a bad fit for their solid baseball program.
Tulane and ECU become the fifth and sixth schools from C-USA's current lineup to leave for the Big East. The others, who will make the jump after this season, are Memphis, Houston, Southern Methodist and Central Florida. Tulane's departure would leave Southern Mississippi as the league's lone charter member from 1996-97.
The Big East has raided C-USA previously, taking Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida, plus non-football schools DePaul and Marquette in the 2005-06 realignment earthquake. When the dust settled and C-USA reinvented itself, Marshall and five other schools joined six holdovers.
Now Marshall finds itself as one of six holdovers, along with Southern Miss, Alabama-Birmingham, Tulsa, Rice and Texas-El Paso. C-USA's regeneration begins next year with the addition of Texas-San Antonio, North Texas, Louisiana Tech, Florida International, North Carolina-Charlotte and Old Dominion. The latter two schools will not be football-ready until 2015.
C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky and Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick both wished the two schools the best, but showed confidence in the league's future.