UAB and C-USA lost in the conference shuffle

By on March 12, 2013
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Over the years, Conference USA has been regarded as the mistreated step child of the Division 1 athletic programs, and after the year of conference realigning that we just witnessed, the Big East may soon join Conference USA at the bottom of the money tree.

January 12, UAB played Memphis in Bartow for the last time as Memphis, Tulane, Southern Miss, Houston, ECU, UCF and SMU will join the American 12 and join Louisville, Marquette, Cincinnati, DePaul, Army, Charlotte, TCU, Saint Louis, South Florida who have all left C-USA for the Big East. Kyle Thompson/Staff Photographer

January 12, UAB played Memphis in Bartow for the last time as Memphis, Tulane, Southern Miss, Houston, ECU, UCF and SMU will join the American 12 and join Louisville, Marquette, Cincinnati, DePaul, Army, Charlotte, TCU, Saint Louis, South Florida who have all left C-USA for the Big East. Kyle Thompson/Staff Photographer

In recent years, conference reshuffling has become the norm. It seems as if every few years, there’s a shift in the paradigm with a number of teams paying to move in the hopes of getting into a better conference.

But what defines better? The answer is television dollars. College football is the second most popular televised sport behind the NFL and advertisers shell out billions of dollars annually to fuel this trend. With so much money on the table, teams not only compete on the field in terms of scheduled games, but they also compete off the field for recruits, TV deals, as well as coaching and support staff.

Currently, the major conferences have the most lucrative deals. The Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC, SEC and Big 12 all receive annual payouts that exceed $200 million dollars. This means that each of the schools within the conferences named above gets anywhere from $15-$20 Million per school as a member of one of these conferences.

This is why so many schools want to leave the smaller conferences so they can get in on the action and focus on building up their programs. These schools are able to attract the staff, which will recruit the players that will win the games that fans are willing to pay to come and see.

And while teams like East Carolina, Houston, Tulane, Memphis, SMU and UCF have decided to abandon Conference USA for the Big East, they may have found themselves among a dying breed. The Big East recently botched a billion dollar deal with ESPN which would have netted each Big East school over $13 million, but instead the Big East stalled for more money and in turn lost several important members in Boise State, Louisville, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh.

The Big East’s landscape is no longer as attractive as it once was, meaning the conference will be lucky to negotiate a new contract worth more than $50 million. But even at this level, each school within the Big East stands to receive between $3 and $4 million annually, which isn’t Pac-12 money, but it’s a step in the right direction.

After losing some of its star teams, Conference USA is now comprised of second and third tier teams that do not attract large crowds. Having signed its most lucrative TV deal to date, which was reportedly worth a total of $14 million, the schools within the program are forced to supplement their income with games against teams that are way out of their league, but gets them exposure and a chance to play against teams that may be more talented.

To shake things up a bit more, Conference USA recently announced its decision to split the conference into two divisions to make the conference more attractive. However, until there’s more money available within the conference, the members will not be able to attract the talent that the larger more successful Division 1 programs can, and without winning a bunch of games it’s difficult to attract the fan base that advertisers are willing to pay for.

So, is leaving Conference USA the best and fastest way to build up UAB’s program? The ideal answer would be yes, however, UAB cannot get the fan support and we lack the necessary facilities to join a major conference. UAB will continuously get overlooked by the Big East and the ACC, which are the conferences that are most aligned with UAB’s basketball-first mentality, because NCAA college football is where the dollars signs stay and with only a single winning season in program history and fan support where there are more big foot sightings a year than fans in Legion Field. UAB has no argument as to why these conferences should give them a second look.

Will UAB ever garnish the support necessary to climb the proverbial conference ladder? I’m not sure, but apparently for several schools that have bested the Blazers in football and basketball throughout the years, the benefits of leaving Conference USA were more compelling than the reason to stay. Maybe it’s time UAB took a hard look at where they are now and where they want to be, and find a conference that will help them reach those goals.

Chase Cole
Senior Staff Writer
chasecole@uab.edu

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