Behr: Too early to tell if merger affects ASU
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Conference USA, long rumored to be a preferred landing zone for the Appalachian State football program, merged with the Mountain West Conference on Feb. 13. The leagues had already formed an alliance during the 2011 football season to share certain resources. Now, they'll be one big-happy merged conference.
It's just unclear who will be in that conference.
Reports say that the mid-major mega-conference could have as many as 24 programs. Since both have been raided from mostly the Big East, plenty of good slots are still available.
Appalachian State's and Charlotte's names have been mentioned recently. East Carolina chancellor Steve Ballard said following the merger that both schools would make welcome additions to the league.
His reasons are basic — both are located in North Carolina. East Carolina, the only North Carolina team in CUSA, is located in Greenville, which is located far away from any potential ECU rival.
It's why East Carolina is open to playing Appalachian State in football and men's basketball, the two biggest money-makers. The Pirates should be even more open to the point of playing a football game at Kidd Brewer Stadium, or at least a men's basketball game at the Holmes Center, some time in the near future.
Both programs would benefit from a potential rivalry. Conference USA members for the 2013-14 school year are down to East Carolina, Marshall, Alabama-Birmingham, Tulane, Southern Mississippi, Tulsa, Texas El-Paso and Rice. That's after CUSA lost Memphis, Southern Methodist, Houston and Central Florida to the Big East.
Programs left in the Mountain West for 2013-14 include UNLV, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado State and Air Force. Hawaii would play just football in the MWC, but play everything else in the Big West.
ECU's travel miles is already heavy. Playing more games out west will push those miles off the charts.
It's risky enough for Appalachian State to make the move to the FBS. The FCS has been good to the Mountaineers. Thanks mostly to its upset of Michigan in 2007, Appalachian State has national name recognition, which is rare for an FCS team.
They've also had remarkable success in football, winning three national championships and by being a fixture in the FCS playoffs. The last time the Mountaineers failed to play in the postseason was 2004. Even then, the team went 6-5.
ASU's athletic department is no doubt keeping a close eye on everything that's gone on. There's no guarantee that a team that is in the newly merged league will be there five or 10 years down the road. That can also be true of Appalachian State.
Another X-factor in all of this is Charlotte. The 49ers begin FCS play as an independent in 2013, but want to move up to the FBS level as soon as possible. Appalachian State is already competing for football players with the 49ers. It would be tougher if Charlotte made the move to the FBS, while ASU was still playing in the FCS.
Old Dominion found quick success in FCS conference Colonial Athletic Association, so it's not impossible to build a program quickly, such as Charlotte desires. But starting from scratch to becoming a member of Conference USA is a huge leap.
I truly believe CUSA would be a better conference with Appalachian State in it. ASU brings a good athletic program, excellent facilities and traditions with it. The programs are clean and for the most part, successful.
I also think Charlotte and Old Dominion would be good addtions to the league, as soon as they were ready with competitive football teams.
But CUSA, especially with the recent merger with the MWC, has to be an excellent fit for ASU before any move should be made. Travel costs and the cost of pulling student-athletes out of class must also be — and already have been — considered.
I'm still not all that crazy about moving to the Sun Belt, but it's still an option — if the Sun Belt would be interested. If I'm that conference, I'd send a limo to Boone to invite Appalachian State.
Otherwise, the Southern Conference is still a decent alternative for the Mountaineers.