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C-USA poised to whack WAC and MAC

From Staff and Wire Reports

Indications were abundant on Friday that Conference USA is on the verge of reaching into the Western Athletic Conference and grabbing a few central time zone schools.

Three days after a C-USA board of directors meeting in Chicago — which focused on developing a strategy for the league to pursue in the domino-world of conference realignments — C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky indicated the league has had a heavy two-way courtship going with three WAC schools.

His comments cast little doubt on the assumption that an informal deal has been struck.

“I’ve had very productive meetings this week with representatives from Rice, SMU and the University of Tulsa regarding the possibility of future membership in Conference USA," said Banowsky in a prepared release. "I am very pleased that we have received a favorable response from each of those universities.

"We will continue our efforts in the days and weeks ahead to complete the conference’s future membership plans. We are very excited about the potential of these relationships and anticipate being able to make a more definitive statement about these matters in the near future.”

Meanwhile, down in Texas, the president of Rice University was more direct in his assessment of the impending marriage. Malcolm Gillis said his school will leave the WAC along with Southern Methodist and Tulsa to join C-USA.

In a short statement, Gillis said the school's board of trustees gave him permission to sign the membership agreement with C-USA.

Gillis said in the league's new expected divisional arrangement, Rice, Southern Methodist and Tulsa would join current C-USA members Texas Christian, Houston and Tulane to form a western division of the conference.

"This configuration will allow for very substantial savings in travel costs," Gillis said. "Even more importantly, the proximity of these schools will benefit our men and women athletic teams through large reductions in time away from class."

Conference USA is repositioning itself as it braces for the expected departure of Big East-bound Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette and DePaul, and the likely defection of either South Florida or East Carolina along with them.

Marshall officials said Wednesday they were expecting an invitation to join Conference USA, which loses Army as a football member after this season.

According to various accounts, a proposed eastern division of C-USA would group the Thundering Herd and fellow Mid-American Conference member Central Florida with current C-USA schools Southern Mississippi, UAB, Memphis and either South Florida or East Carolina.

Rice, SMU, TCU and Houston were members of the Southwest Conference when the league disbanded in 1996. Rice, SMU and TCU joined the WAC, with TCU eventually leaving to join Houston in Conference USA.

The other four members of the SWC — Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor — are members of the Big 12.

02.23.07 10:48 AM

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