Story by Adam Brown / Contributing Writer
Conference Realignment has shaken the makeup of College Athletics, and the chain reaction that started at the top, is here in Conference USA.
Cause and Effect and The Big Picture
The chain reaction that is shaking the makeup of college athletics started with two of the biggest brands in sports, The University of Texas and The University of Oklahoma. The Longhorns and Sooners respectively, shocked the sports world with rumors circling in late July of 2021, that both universities were considering leaving the Big 12 Conference to join the Southeastern Conference. This was said to have been a complete blindside to the commissioner and member schools of the Big 12.
This left the Big 12 in flux. To stay competitive, they needed to add more schools. Of course, all the headlines were predictions of exactly what course of action the conference would take. Eventually, The Big 12 added BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. The last three of those are currently American Athletic Conference members. This caused the process to restart, and now is where we get to how this affects CUSA.
American Athletic Goes School Searching
With the AAC now down three schools they set their sights on C-USA. Shortly after, it was announced that UAB, UTSA, Rice, North Texas, Charlotte and Florida Atlantic would all be joining the AAC, leaving the C-USA with eight schools.
The Sun Belt Sees an Opportunity
This is where the pattern breaks. The remaining schools in C-USA were not content to sit around and see what the conference decided to do. With the conference not having an especially good TV deal, it made sense to look elsewhere. Rumors swirled, and it eventually became apparent that The Sun Belt Conference was going to try to capitalize on the situation. The rumored list of schools consisted of Southern Miss, Old Dominion, Marshall and James Madison. Since then the three Conference USA schools have been confirmed and this has brought the conference down to just five member schools.
Since then, it has been rumored that the Conference is looking to add teams of its own, however others do not think the conference can withstand this onslaught of exits. The one positive is the exit fees that the schools leaving have to pay Conference USA. Those resources, along with the member schools they have left staying is the one hope for the continuation of the conference.
This brings us to MTSU. Will they stay? Will they find somewhere to go? Why wasn’t MTSU a target for the American Athletic? (The Sun Belt and MTSU have a spotty history with MTSU leaving the conference in 2013.) I reached out to MTSU’s Athletic Director Chris Massaro as well as others in the athletic department about these questions and did not receive an answer at the time of writing this. The only information we have truly gotten from the university or Massaro was a statement on the athletics social media accounts from October 19. Shortly after the AAC announced their expansion at the expense of CUSA.
The statement, to me, seemed much more like a sales pitch in a scramble rather than a show of strength like the new AAC schools were able to do with their new conference. This caused me to do a little research, and I came across a site called Athleticdirectoru.com. This site claims to be a peer reviewed athletic department power index. This is how the site describes it, “Dozens of sitting Athletic Directors or executive-level administrators who currently are or could soon be a Conference USA AD were invited to share feedback on each AD job in the league. The data was used to provide detailed insights about the potential for success at each school.”
They have two different rankings. One is Conference USA Realignment Potential, and the other is Conference USA AD Jobs. MTSU is ranked 13 of 14 in realignment potential and 11 of 14 in AD jobs. When the Sun Belt passed on MTSU (bad history or not) it further enforced that sentiment. I asked about this site, its rankings and linked the website in my email that I did not receive a response to.
We will see what becomes of Conference USA and MTSU Athletics. Rumors have started that Conference USA is looking to add teams to stay afloat others are saying the Mid-American Conference is looking at MTSU and Western Kentucky. So will we continue to see our Blue Raiders play in Conference USA, or will we get to take in some Blue Raider #MACtion? Only time will tell.