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C-USA expanding by as many as six schools for 2013

With the proposed merger with the Mountain West Conference fading into oblivion, Conference USA isn't waiting around for the next move.

CBSSports.com writer Brett McMurphy reported Tuesday that C-USA is adding not four, but six schools to the eight who aren't leaving for the Big East in 2013.

A conference source said four schools are a lock to join in 2013: Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Texas-San Antonio and North Texas. The source said the league really wants North Carolina-Charlotte, as long as the latter can raise its football program in a few years, and is intrigued by Old Dominion.

McMurphy reported that all six teams are coming on board, and said an official announcement could come as soon as Friday.

Charlotte is in the process of starting its football program, and will take its first official snaps in 2013. ODU, based in Norfolk, Va., restarted its long-dormant program in 2009, and could conceivably raise its program from the FCS sooner.

UT-San Antonio has finished just its first season, but is already beginning its two-year transition to the FBS. That's no reach, considering its home stadium (Alamodome), its first-year average attendance (35,000-plus) and the fact that the Roadrunners are the only high-profile football team in San Antonio.

No matter how quickly those schools can move on football, C-USA is moving quickly. The 2012-13 season is the league's last with Central Florida, Southern Methodist, Houston and Memphis, all going to the Big East.

When Charlotte and ODU raise their football programs to the FBS ranks, the 14 C-USA teams could be neatly split into East and West divisions, much like it is now. Logically, the East would contain Marshall, East Carolina, Southern Mississippi, FIU, Alabama-Birmingham, Charlotte and Old Dominion, while the West would have UTSA, Texas-El Paso, Tulsa, Rice, North Texas, Louisiana Tech and Tulane.

The new lineup helps out Marshall greatly from a geographical standpoint. The Thundering Herd has an immense alumni presence in the Charlotte area, and Herd fans will find Old Dominion, based in Norfolk, Va., a handy road-trip destination as well.

Charlotte will rejoin the league after leaving for the Atlantic 10 in 2005-06. ODU would come from the Colonial Athletic Association, which just lost Georgia State to the Sun Belt and could lose Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason to the Atlantic 10.

FIU and North Texas will come from the Sun Belt, while Louisiana Tech and UT-San Antonio will come from the Western Athletic Conference, which is nearing extinction. The WAC is reportedly losing Utah State and San Jose State to the Mountain West.

Of the six expected additions, only Louisiana Tech is not located in a major market. The expansion would bring the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (No. 5 in TV market size) back into the mix, and add Miami (16th), Charlotte (25th), San Antonio (36th) and the Hampton Roads area of Virginia (43rd).

Charlotte and San Antonio are bowl cities, and Ruston is not far from Shreveport, La., and the Independence Bowl, so possibilities could open up there.

The pending moves by C-USA and the MWC further confirm that their proposed merger will not happen. That's not a surprise, as financial, legal and NCAA hurdles grew larger and more numerous by the day. A scheduling or other type of association is still a possibility.

C-USA's expansion could keep Texas-El Paso in the league, based on some of the school's reasons to join in 2005. UTEP, thought to be going to the MWC whether or not the leagues merged, now has three large Texas cities with large pockets of alumni.

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.


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