By Al Jones/Sun-Herald (MCT)
HATTIESBURG – Talk of a “super conference” merger between Conference USA and the Mountain West began surfacing a few weeks ago.
The two sides met again last week in Dallas and the once unthinkable is a step closer to becoming a reality.
“We are moving forward with the idea and working with the Mountain West,” Southern Miss athletic director Richard Giannini said. “It could happen. We had a very, very positive discussion with their athletic directors last week in Dallas.
“I came away very encouraged. Both leagues will be pro-active to get it done. I think we will have success (as a super conference) and I think it will happen. We, as a league, began talking a little more than a year ago and we met again a few weeks ago. It’s been in the hopper for a while, but now we are moving forward.”
Conference USA currently has Southern Miss, Central Florida, East Carolina, Houston, Marshall, Memphis, Rice, SMU, Tulsa, Tulane, UTEP and UAB.
The Mountain West has Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, TCU, UNLV and Wyoming with Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii set to join next season.
TCU has agreed to join the Big East and the total number of a potential super conference remains unclear, especially with recent talks about East Carolina and Central Florida leaving Conference USA.
“This would give us stability as a conference and it would give us more exposure,” Giannini said. “That means more revenue for the teams. The one thing we seek is to play at the highest level in football. The beauty with having this many teams is if we lose a team or two, it does not affect us because we would still be going from Hawaii to the East Coast.
“It looks like the Big 12 may add one more team and the SEC will eventually add two more and the same with the ACC. Things are slowing down (realignment talk) and we are moving forward.”
How close is formation of such a super conference?
“It’s not going to happen next month,” Giannini said. “But I think within the next six months we could have it all together. It would be hard to play in 2012, but I could see 2013 if we get together on this. Both sides are focused to make it happen.
“Even if we lose a team or two, we still have the core in place and the concept of going from Hawaii to the East Coast. That would give us stability and we are looking for stability.”
If the sides do merge, Giannini said the conference could play a divisional format featuring East and West with a championship game to determine the champion. The conference could be divided into quadrants. Should it happen, Southern Miss would play teams like Tulane, Memphis and UAB on a yearly basis and venture to places like Boise State, Hawaii and Colorado State.
“We could play with divisions or break it into quadrants,” Giannini said. “With quadrants, the major competition would be the basic core of five-to-six teams right around us and we would play one or two from the Mountain West. That would help with travel.
“It means more TV money for us. We would have more households – from Hawaii to the East Coast – than any other conference and that’s a positive. Also, with the number of schools we would have, I would hope we could garner a BCS spot. I see a new deal with the BCS and with the Big East struggling, I am hopeful we could garner a spot.”
If this does unfold, Giannini has the perfect name.
“With the Mountain West name, you are limited to that area,” Giannini said. “Conference USA would be the perfect name. I think we have a lot of positive vibes going on right now.”