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Is MAC a better fit for MU?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Fans. What are you going to do with 'em, right?

They're never satisfied, unless a national title is delivered. They're always grumbling about something, and they're forever looking in hindsight.

Some WVU fans actually believe their program should have stayed in the Big East until a conference more geographically suited than the Big 12 made an offer. Inane though that thinking might be.

Marshall fans, meanwhile, have wondered aloud and in emails here whether their program should have stayed in the Mid-American Conference, where it had so much success.

That, on the surface, is not inane. Of late, the Big East cannibalized itself. Then Marshall's Conference USA was ravaged. Meanwhile, the MAC has been sturdy. It recently lost football-only member Temple to the Big East, but hasn't lost a full-time member since Marshall in 2004-05.

Travel for the Thundering Herd and its fans was easier in the MAC. And, hey, look at the final football Sagarin computer rankings. The Mid-American Conference was No. 10 among all leagues. Conference USA was No. 11.

On top of that, C-USA is losing Tulsa, its defending football champion, to the Big East, as well as Central Florida, which was ranked higher (45 to 47) than Tulsa in those Sagarin ratings.

How much weaker will Conference USA be after Houston, Memphis, UCF, Southern Methodist, East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa leave? On paper the answer: significantly.

At season's end, the average football ranking of the schools leaving: 88.4 out of 246 schools. The average of those joining C-USA: 104.5. And that doesn't even count UNC-Charlotte, which plays its first football season in 2013 and joins the league in 2015. That should weigh the average down like cement shoes.

In hoops, C-USA is No. 11, while the MAC is No. 16. Remember, though, Memphis is dribbling away.

There, however, is where the pro-MAC argument hits a brick wall.

While the new C-USA will be substantially weaker, it still is a better fit for Marshall. In fact, more so than it has been.

Financially, it's not even a contest. MAC teams pull in roughly $100,000 per year from the league's ESPN deal. C-USA has ongoing 5-year $35-million deals with both CBS College Sports and Fox, which, bundled, pays each league school $1.17 million.

"Our last year in the MAC," said MU athletic director Mike Hamrick, "we were given $32,000 from television. This year, in Conference USA, we made $1.1 million. And we don't have to play [football] on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Sometimes we do play on Thursdays."

One might assume C-USA's television deals would be reworked with the loss of higher-profile schools.

"Our TV package is solid for the next three years," Hamrick countered. "As far as I know renegotiations aren't scheduled. Our TV partners like the new Conference USA teams and markets.

"Also, the exit fee for the [departing] schools is a flat $500,000. But the schools must also pay the difference if the next contract is less than the current one. I'd be surprised if the next contract is less, but if it is the former schools have to collectively make up the difference."

OK, MU fans, I hear you. The $1 million difference has been eaten up by travel to C-USA stops. Perhaps. But that won't be the case in the future.

"We haven't been spending much more," Hamrick said. "In football, we bus to non-conference games. We've been flying to four away games. In the MAC you had Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Northern Illinois. Now [in C-USA] we're adding Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee and, in 2015, Charlotte."

He pointed out that MU's football team will play Miami of Ohio in Huntington this coming season and will travel to Ohio University. Beginning in 2014, the Herd will add and alternate playing Akron and Kent through 2017.

What Hamrick didn't say is the reconfigured C-USA will not only be a better geographic fit, but will also present a more level playing field for the school.

Let's face it, when MU jumped to C-USA it did so without having the necessary infrastructure in place. It hasn't been able to offer recruits what they can find at other C-USA schools. Thus the lackluster results.

Hamrick and the school are moving toward better facilities. But, regardless, the new crop of C-USA schools is more like Marshall in that regard.

The new C-USA group as a whole is a lot more alike. Which should allow the Thundering Herd to be more successful in sports.

Will that success be against weaker league competition? Youbetchya.

But the new C-USA will allow Marshall fans a taste of what they devoured back in the old MAC days.

Without going back to the old MAC.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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