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Does C-USA want Herd?

by Rob Peirce

SPORTS WRITER

For $1 million, Conference USA is being awfully quiet.

ABC is willing to pay C-USA that much money to televise a football championship game, according to a story printed May 23 in the Tampa Tribune.

The problem is, the NCAA requires a conference must have 12 football members to play a title game; C-USA has nine. Texas Christian will join in the fall and South Florida in 2003 to bring the total to 11.

C-USA hopes to have a 12th team by 2003 to divide into two divisions, the Tribune reported. That team would join for football only.

On a short list of likely candidates are Central Florida, Southern Methodist, Tulsa and Marshall, the paper reported.

But if C-USA is looking at Marshall, the Thundering Herd know nothing about it.

"We haven't had any contact with Conference USA, and Conference USA hasn't had any contact with us," Marshall coach Bob Pruett said.

In fact, C-USA hasn't had contact with any of the above candidates, associate commissioner Brian Teter said.

"We've had discussions with nobody," he said. "For me to speculate would be premature. There's a lot of delicate issues that are unfinished."

Expanding to earn the title game is high on C-USA's priority list, Teter said. But no progress has been made yet, and there's no definite timetable.

There were no expansion talks in C-USA meetings May 22-25 in Destin, Fla., he said. But the athletic directors will discuss the issue and make a recommendation to the council of presidents, who have the final vote. The council next meets in August in Chicago.

Central Florida also hasn't heard from C-USA officials. Instead, the Golden Knights contacted them, athletic director Steve Sloan said.

"I don't know if we're one of the candidates," he said. "It's difficult to tell. We haven't been told that. They seem like they're pretty secretive about the whole thing. But we'd like to be."

Sloan said if the offer was extended, Central Florida, currently independent, would join C-USA.

But Marshall would be a quality C-USA team also, he said, citing the Herd's success in the Mid-American Conference and comparing the top five teams in the MAC to the top five in C-USA.

Marshall also is a more worthy candidate, the Tribune inferred from a poll of C-USA athletic directors.

MAC commissioner Rick Chryst declined to comment on the subject, but assistant commissioner for media relations, Gary Richter, said the mere presence of rumors of Marshall leaving should be taken seriously.

"Conference USA's looking, and there's only so many schools available for what they're looking for," Richter said. "You can't just close your eyes and hope it goes away."

Richter expressed interest in having the Herd stay in the MAC.

"Marshall's a very integral part of the Mid-American Conference, and they're certainly a team we'd like to keep in association with," he said. "They're a fit for the MAC, because they bring a solid across-the-board athletic department."

The Herd have won three consecutive Motor City Bowls and four straight MAC title games. The MAC, with 13 members, is one of only three conferences that utilizes a championship football game. C-USA would be the fourth.

Marshall should consider what might happen to its other sports, Richter said. If the Herd chooses to leave for football, they could be ousted from the MAC in the other sports via a vote by the council of presidents.

Their absence would simplify scheduling complications that having 13 teams provide, but the MAC still would like Marshall to stay.

"(Scheduling) is a problem we'd like to continue to have," Richter said.

The football-only stipulation C-USA provides is a big reason Tulsa isn't interested, assistant athletic director for media relations Don Tomkalski said. The Golden Hurricane would be reluctant to drop out of the Western Athletic Conference.

"I doubt if that's the direction we'd take," Tomkalski said. "I find it hard to believe we would move our football program separate from the other sports."

Sports writer Rob Peirce can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at sports@exponent-telegram.com.

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