Conference USA expands by 5 members

By Steve Reed/The Associated Press

Conference USA announced Friday that it is adding five new schools in 2013.

Commissioner Britton Banowsky said Charlotte, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and UT-San Antonio will join the league in all sports, with Charlotte joining in football in 2015.

Charlotte is rejoining Conference USA after several years in the Atlantic 10. Louisiana Tech has been in the WAC since 2001, and UTSA will play in the WAC next year before joining CUSA. FIU and North Texas will be leaving the Sun Belt Conference.

Current CUSA members include East Carolina, Marshall, Rice, Southern Mississippi, Tulane, Tulsa, Alabama-Birmingham and UTEP. Conference USA will lose Houston, SMU, Memphis and Central Florida to the Big East in 2013.

Banowsky says Conference USA and the Mountain West continue to discuss a merger and expansion remains a possibility.

“The discussions with the Mountain West are ongoing,” Banowsky added. “What form the relationship will take is still to be determined, but both remain committed to working together.”

For now, the conference is happy to be at 13 teams.

“We are excited about adding these new members as part of our bold strategy that focuses on growing institutions in large media markets,” Banowsky said. “There is a tremendous upside here. This is an opportunity for us to add a mixture of established and emerging programs. We also remain committed to divisional scheduling models that are student-athlete and fan-friendly. The more we analyzed it, the more it made sense.”

Conference USA noted that the metro area population of the new additions is nearly 18 million. Divisions will be announced later.

The move puts Charlotte on the fast track to go from a school without a football team to one that will play in the Championship Subdivision and then the Bowl Subdivision after just two seasons, the shortest time allowed by the NCAA. The 49ers will be bowl eligible in 2016.

The other school to do that was UTSA, a program the 49ers have tried to emulate. UTSA went 4-6 in its inaugural football season under Larry Coker as an independent in FCS last year, but the program has sought to accelerate its national profile.

Charlotte Chancellor Dr. Philip Dubois said that while nobody expected things to move along this quickly it was an opportunity the university simply couldn’t pass up.

“To be sure, it is an upgrade to what some of us envisioned,” Dubois said. “I certainly have been ahead of the pack in urging us to crawl first, then walk and then run. But when opportunity knocks in Division I athletics, it is most certainly not the Avon lady.”

Dubois said the move was “momentous” for the university’s football program.

“We have yet to take a snap on McColl-Richardson Field, yet to play our first game, yet to have even our first practice — but because of who we are, because of what we’ve done, and because of the great community we live in — we have the unique opportunity to become one of the first programs in history to go from no football to FBS football in the minimum time allowed by NCAA regulations,” Dubois said.

Charlotte is planning on meeting with its architects to add 2,500 to 5,000 temporary seats, as well as adding lighting — the wiring was already in place — to allow night games, which would potentially draw additional television revenue.

“In adding football, it was imperative that we find a conference to compete in — and today we struck gold,” athletic director Judy Rose said. “We not only found a conference to play in — but we found an FBS conference. A top 10 basketball conference. A conference that includes regional rivals, and holds national attention and it’s a conference that has an in-state opponent to fight for bragging rights. It’s a strong conference across the board.”

Earlier this week, a person with knowledge of the situation told the AP that Utah State and San Jose State are jumping from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West in 2013 for football. The schools would replace San Diego State and Boise State, which are joining the Big East for football.

The WAC, which once had 16 football teams, could be left with only New Mexico State and Idaho after next season.

As for the Sun Belt, the league recently added Texas State and Georgia State as football members starting in 2013 in anticipation of losing two schools.

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