HUNTINGTON — Several format changes are coming for Conference USA’s regular-season and postseason tournaments after approval by the league’s board of directors, sources confirmed Tuesday.
Most notably, Conference USA’s men’s and women’s basketball format was unveiled, which features changes to both the regular season and postseason.
As mentioned in a May 5 article by HD Media, C-USA is going away from its “Bonus Play” model, but will maintain an 18-game regular-season schedule for 2020-21.
To aid with cost-cutting measures, teams will conduct home-and-home series within league play with their five closest league competitors, which gives them 10 league games. They will also play the other eight members of the league once during the season to comprise the 18-game slate.
In the case of Marshall, the five closest league competitors who will become home-and-home opponents are Western Kentucky, Charlotte, Old Dominion, Middle Tennessee and UAB.
Another change comes to the men’s and women’s basketball postseason format, which trims down from 12 teams to eight for the 2021 Conference USA men’s and women’s basketball tournament. That tournament is scheduled to take place at The Star in Frisco, Texas, next year as part of the final year of a current agreement with C-USA.
According to sources, postseason formats are a major focus of change within the league, which is looking to balance athletic opportunities, cost and student-athlete safety in response to COVID-19.
One example is in men’s soccer, where the league is reportedly doing away with its postseason tournament.
With C-USA men’s soccer consistently getting three to four bids into the NCAA tournament due to national strength, doing away with the league tournament is not as harmful on the national scale. In lieu of the tournament, every team in C-USA men’s soccer will play one another once.
The same is not the case in women’s soccer, where the automatic bid the league receives from its tournament champion is sometimes necessary to have a representative. To that point, the league will keep its eight-team postseason women’s tournament intact with a six-game division-type schedule in regular-season play for travel purposes.
Other noted changes include volleyball, where sources say the league will change to a four-team, one-day tournament to determine its champion, with the league’s top seed hosting the tournament.
Changes are also coming to the baseball and softball regular-season formats due to expansive travel involved within the league. Softball will reportedly see its league slate cut to 15 games (five three-game series) that are regionally scheduled, while baseball is looking at a 24-game slate that will also be more regionally aligned.
Conference USA put out a release from the conclusion of its board of directors, but that release did not confirm any of the sport changes. Sources within the league said “changes are forthcoming for all sports” and said official changes will come in the near future, but no specifics were confirmed.
Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick also would neither confirm nor deny any of the specific changes, citing the league not releasing that information as of yet.
However, Hamrick did again speak on forthcoming changes to aid in cost-cutting measures incurred due to COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had to make some changes in how we schedule,” Hamrick said. “However, our scheduling becomes more regional, and therefore, we’ll have less travel, which amounts to financial savings.”
Conference USA’s release Tuesday afternoon did confirm the locations for the baseball championships from 2021 through 2023.
The 2021 C-USA baseball tournament will be hosted by Louisiana Tech at its newly constructed ballpark, which was rebuilt after tornadoes destroyed Pat Patterson Park last April. In 2022, the tournament will shift to Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, while the 2023 tournament will take place at Reckling Park in Houston.
According to sources, there was also discussion among the C-USA Board of Directors about Marshall receiving consideration to host the Conference USA baseball tournament following that cycle of contracts, contingent on completion of its on-campus baseball facility.