Conference USA expands by 5 members

Associated Press Modified: May 4, 2012 at 2:31 pm •  Published: May 4, 2012
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Conference USA announced Friday that it is adding five new schools in 2013.

Commissioner Britton Banowsky said Charlotte, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and UT-San Antonio will join the league in all sports, with Charlotte joining in football in 2015.

Charlotte is rejoining Conference USA after several years in the Atlantic 10. Louisiana Tech has been in the WAC since 2001, and UTSA will play in the WAC next year before joining CUSA. FIU and North Texas will be leaving the Sun Belt Conference.

Current CUSA members include East Carolina, Marshall, Rice, Southern Mississippi, Tulane, Tulsa, Alabama-Birmingham and UTEP. Conference USA will lose Houston, SMU, Memphis and Central Florida to the Big East in 2013.

Banowsky says Conference USA and the Mountain West continue to discuss a merger and expansion remains a possibility.

"The discussions with the Mountain West are ongoing," Banowsky added. "What form the relationship will take is still to be determined, but both remain committed to working together."

For now, the conference is happy to be at 13 teams.

"We are excited about adding these new members as part of our bold strategy that focuses on growing institutions in large media markets," Banowsky said. "There is a tremendous upside here. This is an opportunity for us to add a mixture of established and emerging programs. We also remain committed to divisional scheduling models that are student-athlete and fan-friendly. The more we analyzed it, the more it made sense."

Conference USA noted that the metro area population of the new additions is nearly 18 million. Divisions will be announced later.

The move puts Charlotte on the fast track to go from a school without a football team to one that will play in the Championship Subdivision and then the Bowl Subdivision after just two seasons, the shortest time allowed by the NCAA. The 49ers will be bowl eligible in 2016.

The other school to do that was UTSA, a program the 49ers have tried to emulate. UTSA went 4-6 in its inaugural football season under Larry Coker as an independent in FCS last year, but the program has sought to accelerate its national profile.

Charlotte Chancellor Dr. Philip Dubois said that while nobody expected things to move along this quickly it was an opportunity the university simply couldn't pass up.

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