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Conference USA Notebook
Monday, July 28, 2008

By Denny O'Brien

No groundswell for change in C-USA

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

It’s going to happen. You know it will.

Almost as soon as the Bowl Championship Series announces its pairings for college football’s prestigious postseason party, debates about the system’s imperfections again will percolate.

Maybe it will be Mark Richt stoking the coals, much like he did after his team wasn’t chosen as a representative in the BCS National Championship game last season. Or perhaps Bob Stoops leads the playoff cry if Oklahoma finishes with a single blemish but is passed over for another one-loss power.

But it likely won’t be new Southern Methodist coach June Jones leading the charge. Last year he led Hawaii to a remarkable 12-0 regular season and resulting bid to the 2008 Allstate Sugar Bowl, an experience that he says a playoff wouldn’t necessarily top.

“The experience last year was fabulous,” Jones said. “I’m not convinced that it can get better than it is right now.

“I’ve followed NAIA playoffs and Division I-AA playoffs. But I think that the system has been managed pretty well right now with the number of bowls and the number of opportunities.”

Jones acknowledges that the BCS has introduced plenty of debate, but he says that isn’t necessarily a negative side effect. He also believes that it provides access for schools from leagues that don’t receive an automatic bid.

Utah (2005), Boise State (2007), and Hawaii (2008) each are members of conferences that don’t receive automatic BCS bids but earned them by running the table. Only Hawaii failed to deliver in its BCS game.

Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky shares Jones’ view.

“Most people believe, and I think clearly the majority of presidents believe, that the football season is in pretty good shape right now,” Banowsky said. “And our postseason is in pretty good shape.

“We’re really experiencing unprecedented success in college football generally right now and in the postseason. Unless there’s a compelling reason to change, I don’t hear anyone clamoring for it other than some fans who would like to see an NFL-style playoff.”

Banowsky and Jones both suggested during C-USA’s football media day that a playoff could actually hurt the league. The general thought is that many of the bowls with which the league has ties might not survive in a playoff environment, thus limiting the number of schools – if any – that earn postseason berths.

Status quo

East Carolina athletics director Terry Holland has been a proponent for investigating C-USA expansion. A move to 16, he says, could help regionalize the conference more and also build stronger rivalries.

But Holland hasn’t had much public support so far. When polled last week at C-USA’s football media day, the league’s coaches didn’t favor upping the membership.

Banowksy echoed that sentiment, noting the logistical challenge of adding more schools.

“Bigger is not always better,” Banowsky said. “We have a limited number of conference games that we play in football because we only have 12 football games. To have 16 members makes it very, very challenging.

“The situation right now is one in which, I think, for the most part the leagues in our range and above us in the structure are in a comfortable place. They are growing their brands right now. They are trying to grow their audience. I don’t’ see, at least in my view of the world, big changes coming down the pike.”

Championship success

Though C-USA isn’t seeking an immediate move to 16, the league brass acknowledges that its expansion to 12 has proven a success.

It provided the opportunity to pilot a league championship game, a benefit of 12-school membership that Banowksy says will remain.

“It’s been a huge success,” Banowsky said. “It was an experiment going in. We felt like it a way to not only determine a true champion for our league on the field, but also get some profile for the league and build a fairly big stage.

“The format is conducive to big crowds because the team with the best record gets to host. We want to be able to project an atmosphere for all of our events. But that game in particular has been a thrilling atmosphere. We’ve been successful the first three years.”

Unlike most league championship games, C-USA stages its title at the home stadium of the school with the best regular season conference record. Given the widespread geography that separates most member schools, there are no plans for moving the championship to a neutral site.

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07/28/2008 02:51:32 AM

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