Last week the University of Southern Miss scheduled a joint press conference with the Sun Belt. Of course, that meant a move was being announced. Later, ODU announced a move to the Belt as well (well, a return). The Sun Belt commissioner has been in lots of photos with lots of hats in recent days. The Belt is now at an incredible 16 teams, after James Madison, one-time CUSA prospect, joined up.
All of this movement has left this league, C-USA, in a very precarious place. The most valuable remaining asset is the auto-berth into the NCAA Tournament. If you believed commissioner Judy McLeod, she was being inundated with requests to join the league. The speculation was that the requests were FCS programs around the league’s footprint. Looking at the recently announced slate, that sound right.
The analysis this week, from Brett McMuphy and others has been that the league does not have the brightest future ahead given the defections of USM, and ODU, and Marshall. Yesterday, November 5, Conference-USA announced the four members to join the league in 2023.
|Jackonville State||Jacksonville, Alabama|
|Sam Houston State||Huntsville, Texas|
|Liberty University||Lynchburg, Virginia|
|New Mexico State||Las Cruces, New Mexico|
Here are the current members and their destinations:
|Middle Tennessee||CUSA (for now)|
|North Texas||The American|
|Florida Atlantic||The American|
|Florida International||CUSA (for now)|
|Southern Miss||Sun Belt|
|WKU||CUSA ( for now)|
|UTEP||CUSA (for now)|
|Louisiana Tech||CUSA(for now)|
There are five CUSA programs left and UTEP is often used as an example of the unwieldy nature of the modern G5 league. McMurphy reported that UNT and UTEP looked at joining the Mountain West Conference for a bit, and with that the most natural fit for the El Paso program. When that fell through, UTEP was left as the only Texas school. Adding Sam Houston — east Texas for those of you outside of the know — at least shores that up a little. If you know anything about El Paso, they do not consider themselves the same kind of Texas as the eastern part of the state. That means there is now really just the one Texas program. Without the addition of a travel partner for UTEP in New Mexico State (and a rival) UTEP had to be considering something of a move to independence.
Speaking of, Louisiana Tech has previously spent time as a lone wolf. A possible move to the Belt, while maybe a good fit to outsiders, was never likely considering the bad working relationship between Tech and the ULM/L schools. Ruston didn’t fit the league profile for the American. What happens to the Dogs? Well, Tech has something of an independent streak and that has served the m well enough for their history. The national profile is higher than the ULM/L schools, and the current league should be easily dominated by a solid football program, and an ascendant hoops one.
Liberty, had been often rumored to join the league, released a statement that they are ‘waiting to see what happens’. Apparently they saw and made their decision. Liberty is a controversial choice that comes with some political and cultural conversations that a previous version of this league did not want. Now that the league is desperate, they have no complaints. Liberty brings a good football program that already has some would-be CUSA wins in their history.
Sam Houston State is a traditional FCS powerhouse with a consistently good program. Moving up to FBS is tough, and means recruiting against UTSA, NT, Texas State, SMU, and others. It will be difficult to continue that progress without some change to the way they do things.
I’ll be honest and say I know very little about Jacksonville State outside of knowing that Bill Clark coached there, and they have a winning program. The same caveats apply to JSU as they did to SMSU.
New Mexico State is a poor program historically, but again, is close to UTEP and that is useful for them, but not WKU. The travel situation is still unfortunate, and the MAC is apparently looking to absorb WKU and Middle, which puts even this newly formed league in a precarious spot. That move would remove the awkward travel from Kentucky and Tennessee out to New Mexico.
All told, this league made some even more desperate moves compared to the 2013 realignment. The programs fit insofar as they are programs that are willing to join. The money from the exiting members will help pay for the ridiculous travel, but the revenue sources are not obvious. CBSSN, ESPN+ and Stadium are the current rights holders, but there is no guarantee the current dollar amounts will continue.
Also does the league HQ stay in Dallas? NT is leaving for the American and the nearest program to HQ would be Sam Houston State. If not there, where? Whatever the answers, the future does not look particularly bright. Perhaps if the league has a nice run off the strength of some basketball programs revenue, maybe some Belt members could be tempted to come back. Non-Power 5 programs have a strange existence anyway, and the future of college football looks like a consolidation at the top 1 and limited opportunities for everyone else. So CUSA’s best hope is being the best opportunity for G5 programs to take advantage of those limited options.
The AAC currently calls itself that best option but Cincinnati is locked out of the playoff for seemingly arbitrary reasons right now. Meanwhile top-16 poll ranked UTSA is not even in the top-25 of the CFP. Cincy is joining the Big 12 so they can get those opportunities TCU was once denied but not receives. UTSA is moving to the AAC to get a little bit of the shine that Cincy is getting.
On it goes.
The powers that be are already shaky on actually implementing the once inevitable expansion of the playoff↩