C-USA, MWC still working on merger

ONE CONCLUSION reached when Conference USA schools released their football schedules Thursday was affirmation that Marshall would indeed visit West Virginia on Sept. 1, with the intrastate rivals playing football for the final time in our lives.The second one was this: The proposed merger that I jokingly call "Megaconference USA" will not take place for the 2012 football season.There's a "not so fast" caveat on the latter, though.From time to time, reports dribble out that Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and Conference USA's Britton Banowsky are working furiously on the merger, which apparently has expanded from football-only to all sports.The goal, it seems, is to get a basic alliance in place for television purposes for the 2012 football season. One sign that the parties aren't joking: Sports by Brooks, which has operated since 2001, reports that employees of Mountain West conference television outlet The Mtn. have been informed that the network may cease operations after the 2012 MWC baseball tournament. The site also reports that the deal is far enough along that attorneys are exploring the legal ramifications, especially those dealing with television. The broadcast deals the two leagues have in place - C-USA is in its first season with Fox Sports, for example - present complex issues, to say the least.At this minute, there are 20 members in the two conferences. Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii (football-only) are due to join the MWC, but Texas Christian is splitting for the Big 12 and Boise State and San Diego State are heading to the Big Not-So-East.Joining that league from C-USA are Central Florida, Houston and Southern Methodist (SMU trying to play basketball in the Big East? Really?) Add and subtract accordingly, and you have 17.You might as well factor in an expansion to 20, 22 or even 24 teams. There will be no lack of applicants such as Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Texas-San Antonio, Louisiana Tech, etc., etc.I am not sure what to think about this marriage of self-preservation, what scheduling logistics to expect in which sports, or whether it will really increase TV revenue per school. I surely do not expect the megaconference to land "AQ" status in the Bowl Championship Series, if such a thing still exists after 2013-14. Didn't we think conference realignment was a little crazy back in 2003?
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  • The potential upheaval in the BCS overshadows another movement - one to limit bowl participation to those winning seven games.Not sure such a proposal has a prayer, but keep an eyeball on it.The reasons to do this are obvious: Does a 6-6 team really deserve a bowl berth? And aren't 35 bowls way too much? (I know one 6-6 team that wasn't apologizing for playing in a bowl last month, by the way.)
    The Football Bowl Association will discuss that in its April meetings in Miami, Fla., where it will discover the proverbial toothpaste has left that tube. For example, good luck on stripping ESPN Regional Television of its seven bowls.
    There were 27 six-win bowl teams in the last two years, including 6-7 UCLA, which received an undeserved waiver. That's a shot upward from the 32 from 2006-09.One thing that might be missed in that discussion: There used to be a rule in which a 6-6 team could only be used to fill a conference's obligations, or if the FBS ran out of seven-win teams. That rule was quietly repealed a few years back, and 7-5 Western Kentucky was denied its first bowl berth in 2011 because of it.That aside, there are barely enough eligible teams to fill all those bowls. One of these days, there will be an embarrassing (or humorous) shortage, and some big-name 5-7 team will play in the postseason. A Birmingham News analysis of Nielsen data showed average TV viewership of the bowls fell by 8 percent from 2010-11, suggesting fans yawned over the lineup, top to bottom. Five ESPN-owned bowls had ratings below 2.0 (percentage of TV households) and five had double-digit declines from a year ago.The Marshall-FIU matchup in the Beef 'O'Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg racked up a 1.52 - down 23 percent from 2010, but still beating five bowls. That translates to about 2.171 million viewers.
    The last figure is why trimming the bowl lineup will be tough. In this era of a bazillion channels, a 1.5 easily beats reruns of ice fishing or competitive landscaping.If you watch, they'll play.
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  • And finally, what they're saying about Vinny Curry's two-sack performance Saturday at the Senior Bowl:
  • NFL scout, quoted by the Mobile Press-Register: "He may sneak into the first round. He's good with his hands and he can get skinny at the point of attack."
  • NFLsoup.com: "Speaking of Vinny Curry, the guy is legit. All he does is get pressure to the quarterback."
  • Bleacher Report: "The former Marshall star dominated slower offensive linemen, blew up running backs whose feeble attempts at blocking were hilarious, and got to the quarterback multiple times."
  • Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams, on the North defensive line in general: "Those guys don't get enough credit. Some people might call them overachievers, but we saw all week what they could do."
  • Curry also deflected a pass and forced former Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden to chuck a pass to the wrong team in the North's 23-13 victory. NFL.com's Gil Brandt has him ranked 51st on his top 100.It looks like Curry made some money last week. Now, it's on to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Feb. 22-28.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@wvgazette.com.
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