HUNTINGTON — Over the course of the last three months, there have been plenty of discussions by Conference USA’s athletic directors in terms of what is best for the league.
None of those, however, have included a merger with the Sun Belt, which was thrown around in media circles last week.
Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick confirmed on Tuesday that no such discussions took place at any time during the pandemic, including during last month’s Spring Meetings, which is when the rhetoric began concerning the potential merger.
“There has been no discussion about merging with any conference, period,” Hamrick said.
Hamrick’s statements reaffirmed remarks made by Louisiana Tech Athletic Director Tommy McClelland, who was adamant about his stance on the topic as well.
“Let me just be very frank and very direct: There is no conversation at Conference USA, nor is there any interest,” McClelland said.
While Marshall is on the outskirts of any Conference USA-Sun Belt talk, McClelland is deep in the heart of the conversation.
Louisiana Tech is the lone C-USA member from the state of Louisiana while the Sun Belt Conference has two Louisiana-based members: Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette (referred to in athletics as University of Louisiana).
McClelland’s pointed commentary came after Louisiana Athletic Director Bryan Maggard spoke in favor of the topic in recent weeks.
“I think conferences would be wise to look at a myriad of options,” Maggard said. “But ultimately, if you’re going to make decisions like that, the number one thing driving it is cost containment and a very close number two would be the opportunities for more fan engagement.”
While regionalized scheduling between members of each conference is becoming more prevalent since COVID-19 decimated the budgets of athletic departments, a merger is not something that is in the works.
Hamrick did confirm that cost-cutting measures was a key issue within the Spring Meetings, but a merger was not included.
“Our discussions have been about how we can effectively regionalize our scheduling within our own conference,” Hamrick said.
The thoughts of a merger took off on social media and became a buzz topic for a few days, and while many were quick to jump at the thought of it, the idea does not seem feasible.
As it stands, Conference USA has 14 members, while the Sun Belt has 12 members, but only 10 that play football.
That means a 24-team league in college football, which is not ideal under any circumstance. There was talk brought about of breaking it down into the West and the East with each having two divisions.
Even if scheduling would become more regional, the logistical nightmare of a competitive balance within each conference would be horrendous.
And that doesn’t get into basketball, which would add two more teams to the West side with Texas-Arlington and Arkansas-Little Rock.
From a financial standpoint, it makes no sense either.
A renegotiated television contract could, in turn, limit nationally televised opportunities for all within the super-conference, which would limit exposure and drive the overall value of broadcasts down.
Revenue could also likely decrease within the College Football Playoff and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament as well.
There would still be only one opportunity for a super-conference to earn its way as the Group of Five representative into the New Year’s Six, and a watered-down league would hinder strength of schedule for all involved, which makes that opportunity less likely.
It is not known how a merged league would affect payouts that go to Group of Five programs from the College Football Playoff.
Also, a merged conference would likely only get one guaranteed bid to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament for its league champion, whereas the separate leagues would get one each.
That could also mean a loss in revenue due to the NCAA’s system of additional payout for conferences and schools in reference to their involvement in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
In other revenue considerations, both C-USA and the Sun Belt are at the bottom of the FBS barrel in terms of television rights contracts.
A merger would not only require a renegotiation of such contracts in a financially strained climate, but it could also lead to decreased opportunities for national exposure for member programs due to a limited amount of mainstream opportunities.
Such a deal would likely be contingent on streaming services and in-house production from member schools.
Perhaps those are some of the reasons that talks from the C-USA side never came up on a potential merger.
However, in the aftermath of COVID-19’s stranglehold on the nation from a health and financial standpoint, things are ever-changing and spinoff ideas could surface as a result.
Given the similarities in geographical layout, the two conferences will likely be linked to any cost-saving discussions for the foreseeable future, whether that is an agreement for regionalized scheduling within the two leagues or other potential talks as future financial implications for members of both become more clear.