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November 28, 2012Tuesday started out as just a normal day. Not really much going on in the sports world, as far as we knew and then mid-morning hit and the landscape of Conference USA changed, yet again and I'm a bit confused by this departure.
For this round of musical chairs, C-USA saw the departure of Tulane and East Carolina to the Big East. The Big East has been desperate to get some teams back in their conference after Rutgers announced their departure and to also try and get into some television markets. It doesn't take a genius to know they are doing everything they can to save their own conference because by the looks of things, it's falling apart pretty quickly. But of all the teams to pick up ECU makes sense but Tulane? Really?
Let's be honest. Tulane has been a doormat to C-USA for a while and East Carolina has been a good football school but has fallen in stature the last few years. To say that this is going to hurt C-USA like losing Houston, UCF, SMU and Memphis (for basketball reasons), it doesn't seem to be true.
All these schools are at the top of the conference consistently and or are on the rise and becoming strong. Not all these schools are good in every sport but collectively they are. Which makes sense for the Big East to grab them and now to add ECU in football but Tulane? The only reason to bring in Tulane would be to raise the accumulative Big East GPA. That is about all they will contribute.
As you would expect Conference USA issued a statement that said a lot but in reality, said nothing.
Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky said "We thank East Carolina and charter member Tulane for all their contributions to the league and wish them well. These are unprecedented times in higher education. Notwithstanding the changes, we are excited about our future and we remain committed to our strategic plan - a major market, two-division conference that is student-athlete friendly."
"To be clear, we have several options but no new member agreements have been made at this time. We appreciate the support of our members and will immediately begin a presidentially led process to evaluate our future options," he continued.
My question is then, "What about the future are you excited about? What is the strategic plan?"
(UPDATE: AP Source: Middle Tennessee joining Conference USA)
These are schools numbers five and six to leave the conference in less than a year and it seems as if you have a great strategic plan it might be time to start sharing why you are excited about the future and fill everyone in. Wait too long and the next domino to fall could be Tulsa and that would really hurt.
Aside from the issues Banowsky has on his hands, let's look at where the conference is headed for a moment. With the additions of Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Texas-San Antonio, Charlotte and Old Dominion this brings the C-USA total to 12, now that ECU and Tulane are leaving. Also for a few years, 10 schools will be competing in football while Charlotte and ODU are getting their programs going again. Louisiana Tech and Texas-San Antonio are great additions but the others leave a little to be desired. Sounds like there might be a little problem there if you ask me.
Where does this leave UTEP in all of this?
The best thing for the Miners would be to somehow join the Mountain West Conference. There would be some old rivalries renewed and new ones formed but from a financial stand point it makes more sense. Why would you want to continue to travel the miles it takes to get to the east coast when you could stay west and not rack up those frequent flyer miles. This is still hypothetical and would be contingent on whether the MWC wants UTEP.
There is also a benefit for UTEP to stay in C-USA. They have the best TV contracts they have ever had with CBS Sports Network and FOX. Plus, right now C-USA has seven bowl affiliations which gives them a better chance of going to a bowl if they are bowl eligible.
Then again, there is still the possibility of a "merger" with the MWC and formation of a super-conference. This would form the first 16 team mid-major conference and could be the best scenario for not only UTEP but everyone involved.
There has also been talk that now that Tulane and ECU are leaving that it would be a good time to add NMSU to C-USA. Sorry, but no. NMSU has good programs in pretty much everything but football and with Charlotte and ODU coming aboard, adding another fledgling football school would not be in the best interest of the conference.
In the end, with all the moving and shifting, UTEP is still at the mercy of everyone else and will have to stay with C-USA and make the best of it, at least for now.
Chad Middleton, also the producer for 600 ESPN El Paso's SportsTalk, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter at @chad600espn. Make sure to follow Miner Illustrated on Twitter at @minermaniac for more up-to-date news and information about UTEP.