Insights and Observations
Thursday, April 21, 2005
By Henry Hinton
'Commish' talking up
Conference USA commissioner
Britton Banowsky (right) made the rounds in Greenville on
Wednesday. It was his first visit to East Carolina
University since succeeding Mike Slive as commissioner 2½
|Replay the audio
archive of Wednesday's Talk of the Town with
Hinton, which featured an interview with
Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky:
It took a while but
Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky finally found his way to
The commish was in
Clark-LeClair Stadium last night for the East Carolina-N.C. State game. He
could not help the Pirates on the field (ECU lost 3-0) but Banowsky did
bring encouraging news from the home office.
One may get the feeling
that Banowsky was visiting Greenville to deliver two resounding messages.
One, C-USA is alive and well and will survive the recent reshuffle that saw
some of its marquee’ schools exit; and, two, East Carolina is an important
part of the league, which wants the Pirates to stay in the family.
Prior to last night the
commissioner had never attended an ECU event since taking over the helm of
the league in October of 2002. He had planned a trip a month ago but it was
cancelled due to a death in his family.
The former Big 12
associate commissioner has a law degree, a distinction shared by his
predecessor, Mike Slive, now the boss of the Southeastern Conference.
Banowsky has also been
the head man for the Southland Conference.
Although he jokes that
all he does is hand out conference trophies, the commissioner oversees a
staff of 18 people who do everything for the league.
Since arriving on the
C-USA scene, things have been anything but steady for Banowsky. He was
immediately met with an exodus of high profile programs, but let little
grass grow under his feet before moving forward to reset the league.
“I think we’re in a
stable mode right now,” Banowsky
said on Talk 1070 and Cable 7
Wednesday afternoon. “We did a lot of expansion and realignment and now
fortunately we are now moving into a place where we can implement some of
"I can tell you from my
perspective and most of the perspectives of our members it’s been a very
exciting time for us. We’ve added some new markets and new schools. They are
very pumped about coming into the league.”
Since taking over,
Banowsky has reformatted the conference into two divisions. The western
division has a southwest flavor with new members Texas-El Paso, Southern
Methodist, Rice and Tulsa joining holdovers Houston and Tulane.
The eastern division
features East Carolina, Memphis, UAB, Southern Miss and new members Marshall
and Central Florida.
The two divisions will
play a football championship game for the first time at the end of this
The changes in basketball
are dramatic with the high profile programs headed out. Banowsky
acknowledges the losses but sees a silver lining.
“Some people might say
we’ve taken a little bit of a step back in men’s basketball but I can tell
you across the board in all other programs we feel like we’ve taken a step
forward,” he said.
The commissioner puts to
rest any rumors that include more expansion, including recent ones about
potential baseball-only members coming on board.
“You know I don’t see
that happening, to tell you the truth,” says Banowsky. “Our baseball
program, I can tell you across the conference, is as good as any in the
country. I’d put it up against any of the other baseball programs.
"When you think of
Tulane, which has been ranked number one in the country, (and) we’ve added
Rice, which won the national championship a couple of years ago. East
Carolina is always going to be strong. Southern Miss is always going to be
strong. Houston is a very good program. I mean, we’re in a baseball program
that is always going to be very competitive.”
Banowsky admits that the
recent run by Rick Pitino’s Louisville basketball team all the way to Final
Four will mean big bucks to be divvied up across the league. However if
Banowsky knows the exact number he is not ready to reveal it.
“I can’t tell you a
precise number but I can tell you it is significant though,” he said. “The
way the NCAA revenue system works is when a team leaves a conference, it
leaves behind the value of the units it has earned in the NCAA Tournament.
And those units are a function of the CBS contract and it is highly
lucrative, so I think it is fair to say the conference is going to receive a
bit of a windfall from the success Louisville had this year in basketball.”
Perhaps the biggest
victory of his still-young tenure as commissioner is the recently announced
television deal for C-USA, which expands the coverage from ESPN-only to add
the newly formed College Sports Television Network.
The new deal increases
the exposure of the conference across the nation and gives sports other than
football and basketball coverage on CSTV.
“We’ve really had a
wonderful outcome with our television situation,” Banowsky said. “We’re
going to be okay over the new term for six years, possibly even longer. I
think it’s safe to say we’ll be generating as much or more revenue and
having many many more games on TV.
"We’ve created a
non-exclusive environment. In the past we’ve been in an exclusive
arrangement with ESPN. Now we’ll get the best of both worlds. We’ll have our
ESPN deal with the same number of football games on, but in addition we’ll
get all the other wonderful stories and events off the shelf and give them
to a competitor of ESPN. So, we’re very happy about the television situation
and consider it an improvement over where we are right now.”
Of course all is not a
bed of roses for the new commissioner. Banowsky has taken up the need for
C-USA to get a place at the table for the Bowl Championship Series, perhaps
the most controversial of all issues facing college football.
Banowsky even sees that glass half full, with recent discussions leading to
some incremental changes for programs outside the BCS conferences.
“There have been a lot of
developments that haven’t been implemented yet,” said Banowsky. “ Agreements
have been reached that we’re going to implement not this next season, but
the following season. You know the bottom line for me is that I want all our
coaches in our league to be able to tell their student-athletes that if you
have a great season and you go undefeated there is a chance you can play in
one of the highest bowls, including the BCS bowls.
"We’ve had Tulane and
Marshall, but in the past you had to be in the Top 6 in the final rankings.
As you know, this past year Utah, from the Mountain West, finally broke
through and played in the Fiesta Bowl and played very well out there. Going
forward, the access will be more at 12 and in some cases 16, so I think a
coach can tell a student if we go undefeated there is a good chance we can
be there. That’s really what we’re striving for.”
In addition to meetings
with ECU Director of Athletics Terry Holland and his staff, taking in the
baseball game and visiting with fans in Clark-LeClair Stadium, Banowsky will
receive a visit on Thursday from a host of community leaders and get a tour
of campus as he continues to get to know more about East Carolina.
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