Conference USA and Sun Belt Could Combine in Pandemic Recovery
Last week, both UTEP President Dr. Heather Wilson and Director of Athletics Jim Senter joined 600 ESPN El Paso to provide an update on the school's return from the current pandemic. One subject that both could not confirm is CUSA's return to athletic competition. Although UTEP is planning for their football season opener against Texas Tech at the Sun Bowl on September 5th, there is still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the start of the season.
Recently, Kevin Foote, the sports editor at The Advocate in Lafayette, Louisiana, wrote about the possibility of Sun Belt schools and neighboring C-USA programs merging together in some capacity to help cut down on travel costs. Foote discussed the possibility of the two leagues combining schools that are regionally close to each other or forming an alliance so Sun Belt and C-USA programs could bus from city to city rather than fly long distances from one part of the country to another.
He discussed different models that would turn C-USA and the Sun Belt into a super league. One of them featured an east division that would consist of Liberty, Appalachian State, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, Western Kentucky, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Georgia State and Georgia Southern. Foote's western division would consist of UL, UL-Monroe, Louisiana Tech, South Alabama, USM, Troy, UAB, Arkansas State, New Mexico State, North Texas, Rice, Texas State, UTSA and UTEP. The interesting thing about the west schools is that it includes NMSU, currently an independent in football and member of the Western Athletic Conference in all other sports.
Sports Illustrated's Pat Forde wrote about college football's 2020 return. In his story, Sports Illustrated spoke with all Power 5 and Group of 5 conference commissioners and Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick. C-USA commissioner Judy McLeod hinted about the possibility of her league schools playing regional programs from other conferences. "Another possibility: if things get crazy, do we need to play other schools that are close to us from other conferences, others within our footprint?," McLeod told Sports Illustrated. "Some of that maybe we should have been doing a long time ago, be a lot smarter."
Realignment has not yet been a discussion among Power 5 or Group of 5 conferences, but C-USA has already started dropping hints on how they could proceed from the pandemic. Interestingly enough, C-USA and the Mountain West nearly finalized a similar merger more than eight years ago, but plans never came to fruition.