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Western Kentucky officially joins C-USA

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As Britton Banowsky hurried to catch a flight back out of Nashville, Tenn., he was hoping the realignment madness would end after today.

That's when the announcement of the University of Tulsa's departure to the Big East is expected to take place.

Conference USA's replacement for Tulsa came on board Monday, as commissioner Banowsky welcomed Western Kentucky into the league. The Bowling Green-based school will enter C-USA on July 1, 2014, ending a 32-year relationship with the Sun Belt Conference.

The league's press release Monday still listed Tulsa as a member, but that is expected to change today. The Tulsa World newspaper reported that the school will make its announcement today that it is switching homes, also beginning in 2014.

Banowsky said he, too, expects Tulsa to leave, and hopes that is the last exit in the recent wave of realignment. The Golden Hurricane will be the seventh program to jump to the soon-to-be-named Big East.

"Somebody asked me when the merry-go-round was going to stop," Banowsky said. "I said, 'I don't know, but somebody needs to unplug it.'"

In the 2005-13 era with the same 12-school C-USA lineup, Tulsa has won 49 championships in all sports, more than double of any other school. WKU has enjoyed similar dominance in the Sun Belt - it has captured 86 titles since 2000.

When Banowsky investigated the Western Kentucky program a little further during the application process, he was pleasantly surprised to see the depth of tradition in men's basketball. The Hilltoppers carry the eighth-highest all-time winning percentage in NCAA history and own 42 conference championships.

"I can make the case that men's basketball is going to be more robust than in the past, even with the loss of Memphis," Banowsky said.

So here is the recap of exits and entrances in the league:

This summer, Memphis, Central Florida, Southern Methodist and Houston are going to the former Big East. Replacing them will be North Texas, Texas-San Antonio, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee State, Old Dominion (football in 2014) and North Carolina-Charlotte (football in 2015).

In 2014, Tulane, East Carolina and Tulsa will leave, and WKU will enter.

If you're trying to add it up, C-USA will be 16 teams, 14 in football, for 2013-14. In 2014-15, that goes to 14 teams, 13 in football; in 2015-16, 14 teams will compete in football.

The changes will leave Rice as the league's only private school. All newcomers are public schools, many with enrollments larger than WKU's listed 21,124.

In Huntington, Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick enthusiastically supported the addition. WKU will be the closest C-USA rival the Thundering Herd has had, a 281-mile separation similar to that of former Mid-American Conference rival Toledo.

Hamrick likely will push for Nashville as a future site for the C-USA basketball tournament, noting the proximity of WKU and Middle Tennessee. Banowsky won't mind spending more time addressing that and other relatively routine matters.

"I hope we get into a period of rest," he said. "We all need to breathe and catch up on things other than membership matters."

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130,   dougsmock@ wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.

 


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