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C-USA boss: Realignment over for now

 HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - After steering Conference USA through another radical, hectic round of realignment, commissioner Britton Banowsky is ready for everything to calm down for, oh, eight more years.Or longer.Eight years is the time C-USA played with the same 12 teams after the previous conference earthquake, which reset the membership for the 2005-06 season. There were six new faces then, including Marshall.After the latest national reshuffling, C-USA has brought on eight new members, with Western Kentucky arriving next year. When the membership settles at 14 schools next year, Banowsky hopes he doesn't have to recruit schools for a while."Everything seems to have settled in the system, which is really good," he said. "Because we need to begin growing the conference and growing the brands, working on things like getting better and putting facility brands into place. And you really can't do that when you're in a state of membership flux."My sense is, knock on wood, the stuff above us in the system is settled. I think it has."Helped by the launching of three new bowls, that situation is more or less set for 2014-19. The league is still hashing out the division alignment in football, and the sites for the men's and women's basketball tournaments past 2014 will be addressed.New television negotiations are on the horizon, with the birth of Fox Sports 1 providing a boost this season. "I am delighted with the way things have turned out," Banowsky said Saturday during his appearance at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. "The group we have is a good group, as we thought it would be. We've got some great programs that are showing up-side potential. We've got schools in Western Kentucky and Middle [Tennessee] that are a nice bridge to Marshall."With the bowl situation realigning just as radically for 2014 and beyond, C-USA officials saw the need to be proactive. Joining the other four leagues outside the "Power 5," three bowls are being launched."Ultimately, we as a conference had to decide whether we were going to put ourselves in a place, year in and year out, where we would hope there would be openings and then try to find bowls for our surplus teams, or whether we just wanted to go out and create our own destiny," Banowsky said. "About a year ago we started thinking, 'Let's do Boca Raton,' and that makes some sense. In the spring, we started thinking about the Bahamas, which is a fantastic opportunity."And then we brought the other partner conferences into the conversation and they said, 'Wow, those are good setups you have.' And then Miami [Miami Beach Bowl at Marlins Park] came online, the American Conference brought Miami to us."
Banowsky doesn't expect to see the league putting its champion in one designated bowl, such has been the case with the Liberty Bowl in 16 of 17 years. This is the league's last go-around with the Liberty, assuming there is not an "out" similar to that exercised in 2011. Banowsky didn't give an ironclad guarantee this fall's champ will end up in Memphis."I'm assuming we play in the Liberty Bowl, but if we don't that's OK, too," he said. "If for some reason it makes sense for us to do something else or for them to do something else, that's OK, too."
The 2014 C-USA football season will feature 13 teams, as three schools exit, WKU enters and Old Dominion enters league play. Charlotte's rise to C-USA in 2015 has school and league officials thinking about reworking the divisions to maintain a 7-7 balance.Banowsky said Southern Mississippi is certainly switching to the West Division. On the much-discussed move of Alabama-Birmingham: "I don't want to speculate on that; I don't want to get too far ahead of that one." Five of the new schools are hosting an Olympic sport's championship, and one or more newcomers stand to host the basketball tournaments at some point. One attractive arrangement that has become doubtful, to the league's dismay: Nashville, with WKU and Middle Tennessee co-hosting."We're in El Paso this year, and I think philosophically I like the idea of moving the event around, exposing it to different fan bases," Banowsky said. "The SEC kind of has locked up Nashville, which I think would have been a great option. But there are other great options as well - we've got schools like Charlotte."Banowsky likes the league's TV situation, present and future. Of course, many of the new schools are in larger TV markets, which C-USA officials believe will help in future negotiations."We have really good TV platforms. We play mostly on Saturdays, which is what our folks wanted," Banowsky said. "Fox and [Fox Sports 1] have been a really great pump for us; we're getting great exposure on FS1. CBS Sports continues to grow their audience - I think they're up to 50 or 60 million homes, and they're clearly in all of our markets.
"We have two more years left after this year on our agreements, so we'll begin the process of looking at the future. But the good news is content, content is limited and it's valuable and desirable, and people are consuming college football like never before."Reach Doug Smock at 3040-348-5130, or follow him at    
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