Commish sees bright future for C-USA

Published 2:04 am Thursday, July 24, 2014

IRVING, Texas (AP) — Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky knows at least one thing won’t change with autonomy for the five power conferences to make their own bylaws.

“There’s been a differentiator whether you call them BCS, non-BCS,” Banowsky said Wednesday. “I’m not naive to think that there won’t be some continued differentiation.”

Asked then what he’d like C-USA and similar NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision leagues to be called moving forward, Banowsky said, “Call us the second five, and note there’s 32 (conferences).”

Email newsletter signup

Regardless of whatever labels and differences there are, Banowsky expects that “second five” leagues to be able to co-exist in major football like they always have with the big-money conferences — the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten.

“Our five conferences and their five conferences have a lot of history together, and we’ve always found a way to get in a room and to be good listeners and work it out,” Banowsky said Wednesday during C-USA football media day. “I also think having 60 schools together is just not enough for them to be able to have a base from which to operate. You need a bigger base.”

The new College Football Playoff has the 10 FBS leagues contractually obligated for 12 years. That agreement guarantees a spot in one of the CFP’s six bowl games for the highest-ranked team from among the mid-major leagues — C-USA, the Sun Belt, MAC, Mountain West and American Athletic. That includes consideration for one of the national semifinal games.

“We are in a transition from conference realignment to system realignment,” Banowsky said.

Rice coach David Bailiff said Conference USA has “to be No. 6. We’ve got to figure out how to be the best” of the other five leagues.

“We’re as well off as we’ve ever been. We’ve got a seat at the table if we just take care of business,” said Marshall coach Doc Holliday, whose team is the C-USA preseason favorite. “Before, in the old BCS system, we didn’t have a very good shot at getting that particular deal.”

After several seasons of conference realignment nationwide, Conference USA has 13 football teams this season. Charlotte is already competing in other league sports and will move up from the Football Championship Subdivision level next season.

Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina all left C-USA for the American Athletic Conference this year. Old Dominion and West Kentucky make their debut in C-USA, which spans 10 states.

“Today, we are kind of on a pivot point, and I think our future is very, very bright,” Banowsky said. “I think this is perhaps the most challenging time in the history of college athletics. It’s certainly the most historic time.”

The NCAA board of directors is set to vote Aug. 7 on a proposal to give schools in the highest-profile conferences more influence over college rules. The proposal also would give athletic directors and athletes bigger roles in the legislative process.

Among the issues are scholarships providing for the full cost of attendance, something Banowsky feels his league “is farther ahead than even the national discussion” since leaders of C-USA schools have discussed for more than a year, and support.

Banowsky said the difference between full cost of attendance and scholarships awarded at the league’s 14 schools range from $1,500 to $5,000. Based on an average of 230 scholarship athletes in all sports, that could mean an extra $345,000 to $1.15 million added to athletic budgets depending on how such rules are structured and how applied by each school.

At the same time, Banowsky doesn’t expect any calls for an increase in the number of scholarships for football or other sports. He said his understanding is that even under new governance rules, that wouldn’t be something that could be passed solely by the five power conferences. Nor would transfer rules, he said.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that all of us are going to co-exist together,” Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said. “I don’t see this complete separation where it’s them … and we’re the little boys trying to take their ball from them. I think we’re set in Conference USA, set better than some of the other conferences that aren’t in that top five.”