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C-USA has 'amazing week' of meetings

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Officials from the schools in the suddenly crowded Conference USA had many issues to work out, so their annual spring meetings in Destin, Fla., weren't exactly a day at the beach.

For the 2013-14 academic year, the league will number 16 teams. It will level off to 14 after this round of realignment finally runs its course, beginning in 2014-15.

With all those athletic directors, senior woman administrators, faculty athletics representatives and head coaches for men's and women's basketball and football in the same place, it's a wonder commissioner Britton Banowsky could get a word in edgewise.

But the meetings were organized enough to hash out several issues and send them to the league's presidents and chancellors, who meet June 10.

"We had an amazing week," Banowsky said. "Our members were focused and worked hard on policies and platforms to prioritize the things that will add to our success."

Men's basketball had some of the most pressing issues, and they have been resolved for this unusual season. In a scheduling change that didn't interest the majority of the previous membership, the conference will lean toward a Thursday-Saturday format, with "travel partners."

One part of the format had previously been decided - all teams will play each other once, and will play a "travel partner" home and home. This week, Marshall's travel partner was changed to North Carolina-Charlotte, closer than previously named Old Dominion.

MU athletic director Mike Hamrick approved.

"Charlotte is a much better travel partner," he said. "With our big alumni base there and the fact we have a Big Green event there, I feel good about it."

With the large number of teams, the format for the conference basketball tournaments - remember, the men's and women's events are played at the same time, in the same city - had to be re-examined. The league has brought a constant 12 teams, even when it had 14 before the 2005 realignment.

It was decided, however, that all 16 schools will come to El Paso, Texas. As before, the men will play at the Haskins Center and the women's early rounds at the nearby Memorial Gym.

The league is adopting the scheduling plan favored in recent years by the 16-team Big East, one stretching over five days. And, yes, the top four teams will earn that "double bye."

There was an advocate of that format in the room - Mike Jarvis, the former St. John's coach, is entering his sixth season at new C-USA member Florida Atlantic.

"It's the first year for a lot of schools in the conference, and we just thought it would be good for the conference tournament," Hamrick said. "Everybody felt from the student-athlete experience to promoting the conference, it's best to bring everybody."

The women's basketball coaches, aiming to get away from Sunday games, adopted the men's former Wednesday-Saturday format. The league was playing a Friday-Sunday rotation.

Several other conference tournament sites changed, and had to - a few were hosted by Houston and Memphis, which are heading to the American Athletic Conference this summer. New members filled a few spots - men's soccer moves to Charlotte, volleyball to Middle Tennessee, women's tennis to ODU and softball to FAU.

Also, the field size of some tournaments will increase - volleyball from eight to 12 teams, women's soccer from eight to 10 and men's soccer from six to seven.

Many of these issues must be re-examined next May, as East Carolina, Tulsa and Tulane leave for the AAC and Western Kentucky enters what will be a 14-team C-USA. Some items discussed at length:

  • Instituting divisions in basketball. That could bring a 19-game schedule - 12 against the six division rivals and one each against the seven teams in the other division.
  • Future basketball tournament destinations: If a few schools had their druthers, Nashville would be the front-runner. The Music City sits close to Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee and is a doable drive from at least half the league's schools, and it's one of the better tourist destinations.
  • The upcoming bowl shuffle. Representatives from a number of bowls came to the Florida Panhandle to glad-hand ADs and other officials. Many bowl contracts end after this year, and the jostling for position by the radically realigned conferences will get interesting.
  • Houston, Memphis, Southern Methodist and Central Florida are leaving for the AAC. They are being replaced this summer by Middle Tennessee, FAU, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Texas-San Antonio, Charlotte and ODU.

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

     


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