The buzz around the college football preseason centers around the Heisman Trophy and BCS, but since 2005 a new word has entered the college football vocabulary: expansion.
Every program outside of the six BCS conferences is looking to be the next South Florida or Louisville; to go from forgotten to the big money of a BCS conference.
With teams such as Utah, Boise St., and Hawaii busting the BCS, a line has been drawn for the mid-major conferences. You are either striving toward the BCS: Mountain West and WAC, or falling further behind: C-USA and MAC.
With news of the Memphis basketball 'scandal,' Conference USA is officially on notice: Expansion will lead to the contraction of Conference USA.
The current members of the Conference USA are divided into two divisions: East and West.
- East Carolina
- Southern Miss
- Central Florida
- Southern Methodist
The geographic footprint of this conference reaches over 1,500 miles between El Paso, Texas (UTEP) and Orlando, Fla. (UCF). With teams so spread out, C-USA has already implemented video conferencing for media days.
The mandatory 12-game schedule has increased the travel demands as well. Teams must play each member in their respective division as well as three games in the opposing division.
Teams such as East Carolina, last year's darling of C-USA, will have to travel to SMU and Tulsa this season for conference games! Mid-major squads normally travel these distances for payout games such as the $1 million dollars Arkansas St. will get from Auburn in 2010.
These teams cannot afford to spend so much, and get so little out of a conference win.
Another problem C-USA is running into is their bowl tie-ins. The conference just re-signed with the Hawaii Bowl, once again increasing the travel needs 4,500 miles.
Besides the Liberty Bowl, all of C-USA's bowl games are forgettable at best.
The Texas Bowl, Armed Forces Bowl, New Orleans Bowl, St. Petersburg Bowl and Eagle Bank Bowl are simply siphoning money from the conference.
They're not helping the conference reputation either.
Even these bowl games are a mirage regarding the conference's reputation. Last year C-USA teams participated in six bowl games. Their one notable win: Houston over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Every other game saw them beaten by superior teams: Memphis v. South Florida, and East Carolina v. Kentucky.
Or beating a team from a lesser conference: Southern Miss v. Troy, Rice v. Western Michigan, and Tulsa v. Ball State.
The truth regarding college football and specifically the Conference USA is that these bowl games are being paid for by C-USA basketball money.
Every appearance in the NCAA tournament nets C-USA a 'unit,' a specific amount of money that is split between all members.
These units are paid out over a six-year period, meaning the success and money of C-USA in 2003, 04, and 05 are about to run out. Right around 2011.
Between 2003 and 2005 C-USA made 29 units, let's just say around $1.5 million per unit. (The money fluctuates yearly)
From 2006 t0 2009 C-USA made 17 units, with Memphis making 16 of these. Now that Memphis will be returning their money from 2008, C-USA will be looking for additional funding.
This additional funding has come from CBS College Sports and ESPN, namely a $67.8 million dollar TV deal running until 2011. Many people within C-USA are expecting the deal to shrink, noting the success of the Mountain West, as well as BCS conferences looking for more money following the $3 billion dollars SEC deal.
The fear among many Athletic Directors and fans of these schools is that defection could be viable for travel, television deals, or even better competition.
The Mountain West and WAC are continuing to look for BCS respect by adding prominent programs.
Conference USA's D-Day is 2011, they must start winning games and making a splash in the college football world. John Calipari leaving Memphis will leave a void in basketball funding, one that I don't see being filled.
Without this money, the NCAA basketball money will soon run dry, and the bowl games will soon follow. Around this same time, the television deal will come up without a marquee team to advertise behind.
Once the TV money lessens, teams such as Houston, Rice, Southern Mississippi, and East Carolina will be looking to take advantage of their conference success with a defection to a different conference.
The loss of these teams leaves C-USA with nothing to offer on the football field, and only Memphis to offer on the hard-court. It's the end of Conference USA, unless something changes quickly.