CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- AS WE COWER under our desks awaiting the next brilliant move in conference realignment, a novel idea popped into my head.No, wait, it's an antiquated idea. Too 20th-century, too naive, too economically unsound.But it's my thought and I'm sticking to it: Consider basketball as a part of the realignment equation.Yeah, that's a joke, right? A real knee-slapper. Everybody knows it's all about football, period.
It is until the calendar sneaks past football signing day, and then Valentine's Day. With recruitniks and your significant other satisfied (hope there's no overlap in your case), March marches into our consciousness.They don't call it March Indifference, you know.In the case of Conference USA, the future of basketball is a considerable issue, especially with Memphis moving on to the Big East after this season. In the previous seven seasons, Memphis has played in the NCAA tournament six times, winning 13 games and just failing to close out the 2008 national championship game (vacated games ignored here).The rest of the league? Alabama-Birmingham had two NCAA appearances (2006, 2011), Texas-El Paso and Houston once in 2010 and Southern Mississippi last spring. All were ousted in their first 40 minutes.You know C-USA will take a step or three back in football, at least in the short term. But will the league continue to struggle even harder to get two NCAA basketball bids?Of the eight pending newcomers, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte has the historical pedigree. In the 49ers' 1995-2005 stint in C-USA, they earned seven NCAA bids, winning four games. Oddly enough, they have never advanced to the NCAA tournament out of the Atlantic 10, and have suffered two losing seasons in a row.That skid should end, as Charlotte is 7-0 this season, winning the Great Alaska Shootout.Old Dominion went to the NCAA in 2010 and 2011, beating Notre Dame in the earlier year. North Texas went in 2007 and 2010, and Texas-San Antonio won a 2011 play-in game.Conversely, Richard Pitino is trying to put Florida International (8-21 last season) on the map after Isiah Thomas predictably failed. Louisiana Tech is Karl Malone's alma mater, but hasn't sniffed the men's NCAA tournament since 1991.The latest two additions, Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic, are mildly intriguing. FAU is coached by a name you might know, Mike Jarvis, and does have a 2002 NCAA appearance from its Atlantic Sun days.Middle Tennessee, you know from its 86-78 win over Marshall in the National Invitation Tournament in March. Like Marshall, the Blue Raiders are looking for their first NCAA berth since the late 1980s, but are having success under coach Kermit Davis.
Shoot, maybe C-USA did consider basketball after all. I'd take most of these teams over Tulane and East Carolina on the hardwood.The supposed next two schools would even better.Not in football, though. Western Kentucky, which has played five seasons in the Bowl Subdivision, has shown as much progress as one could expect. New Mexico State has been flailing at the game much longer, having last played in a bowl in 1960. Two wins are cause for celebration in Las Cruces; the Aggies were a game short this season.But in basketball, these schools have much better pedigrees. They have combined for 41 NCAA tournament appearances, 12 Sweet 16s and two Final Fours. Both went to the NCAA last season, with the Aggies finishing 26-9.Two nice basketball programs, plus Western has America's coolest mascot, the furry blob named Big Red. I'll take 'em.nn
Memo to Marshall fans, and this isn't going to be nice: Quit wailing about wanting to get out of Conference USA. Unless you want to turn independent for some reason, there is nowhere to go.And never, ever, look yearningly to rejoin the Mid-American Conference. There is zero tolerance in this space.I remember distinctly the immense disrespect for that league 10 years ago by MU followers, and the near-desperation to get out of that league. There was good reason, too - then as now, the MAC was a league overrun by lightly followed programs, whose fan bases spent more time and energy rooting for Ohio State or Michigan.Dix Stadium at Kent State had plenty of good seats available. Yager Stadium at Miami (Ohio) ran out of food during a Marshall visit, selling still-frozen pretzels. Toledo announced impossible attendance figures. Akron had the Rubber Bowl, the dingiest place on Earth. You can't buy Bowling Green gear at the Bowling Green Walmart. Eastern Michigan ... why?And then the old, old-school Herd fans, those who attended MU in the late 1960s and early 1970s, never really wanted to re-enter the MAC in the first place, except to exact football revenge on the above schools. (That story is too long to rehash here.)Conference USA was the favored (realistic) destination, even with Cincinnati and Louisville heading elsewhere. I've often thought the Herd landed Louisiana Tech's spot in the 2005 realignment because Bob Marcum and power broker Chuck Neinas were not strangers.This much is certain: There was much lobbying from Marshall to get into C-USA.MU is stuck, if you want to call it that, for a number of reasons: The Marcum administration fell into a state of inertia, the NCAA sanctions took a nagging toll, Mark Snyder's teams couldn't win the big game and fans didn't always put their money where their big mouths were.If you soured on the program and scaled back your support in the past five or so years, congratulations! You're part of the problem.This season, C-USA had a down year and the MAC looked pretty good. These things are cyclical: Hell may freeze over solid before two top-25 teams play in the MAC title game again.In this round of realignment, C-USA is taking on some lesser-regarded, even unestablished programs. But mark my word, the league will be clearly better than the MAC again in no time.Besides, C-USA champ Tulsa would punch BCS buster Northern Illinois in the schnoz anyway.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.