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Conference-USA, Mountain West join forces in all sports

Published: Monday, February 13, 2012

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05


Justin Stene / The Prospector

UTEP President Diana Natalicio answers questions about the multi-sport merger Feb.13 at the Larry K. Durham Center.

Conference-USA and the Mountain West Conference announced Feb. 13 that the two have agreed to form a new intercollegiate association, which will begin in 2013-14.

"We think that the institutions that we would be partnering with in the Mountain West are institutions that we've always had a great deal of respect for," UTEP President Diana Natalicio said. "They're major state universities, we like those institutions, we like the people who run them and I think they offer us great opportunities for competitive experiences for our students."

Presidents from the 16 remaining schools from both conferences agreed to begin the new conference in all sports. Those 16 schools were UTEP, East Carolina, Marshall, Rice, Tulsa, Southern Miss, Tulane and UAB from C-USA. Air Force, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, UNLV, New Mexico and Wyoming were the other eight from the Mountain West. Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii are scheduled to join the conference in 2013. Hawaii will be a football-only participant, playing its other sports in the Western Athletic Conference.

According to the release, the new conference "will likely include" a "membership of 18-24 universities; national scope from the Atlantic Seaboard to Hawaii (in football); championship football game format that includes semifinal match-ups; regular season scheduling in divisions; mechanisms to emphasize and improve academic standards and fiscal responsibility."

C-USA and Mountain West agreed to join in football only back in October 2011 but Natalicio said merging in all sports was something in the back of everyone's head.

Natalicio said the additional schools to comprise the 18-24-team conference have not been discussed but she said that Utah State (currently in the WAC) and Florida International (Sun Belt) have been discussed. UTEP Athletic Director Bob Stull also said that NMSU (WAC) is also on their list of possible candidates.

Natalicio said the next step is to make a formal approval from all schools to form the conference, which she hopes will occur "over the next couple of weeks." She also said that no name has been decided.

"There's a lot of work to be done. A name is really important. Your brand is going to be very, very important and it can't be Mountain West or Conference-USA, I think. Those are used, taken," Natalicio said.

According to Natalicio, the initial discussions is that it will be two divisions but four divisions, which was included in the WAC that UTEP participated in the 1980s and 90s, is still being considered. Natalicio said that more than likely, UTEP will be in a Western division.

Natalicio spoke numerous times about what the move does geographically for her student-athletes. She emphasized that students would not have to miss as many days in class when playing closer competition such as New Mexico.

"Class days missed is the hidden cost of trying to get to places like Marshall and East Carolina. That's hard for us and that's hard for them to get down here," Natalicio said.

As for the football four-team playoff system, Stull said it is "all speculative" at this time. He also said that conference tournaments, specifically in basketball, are also on the agenda.

"In our conference, we bid for the conference tournament and in the Mountain West, they play in Las Vegas," Stull said. "Would we stay in Las Vegas, would we bid on it? I don't know. None of these details are there. The concept is there, the details are not."

C-USA lost Houston, SMU and UCF to the Big East in December 2011 and Memphis announced that they would join in February 2012. Boise State, who joined the Mountain West in 2011 and San Diego State also joined the Big East in December 2011 and TCU will join the Big 12 in 2012. The six other teams will join their new conferences in 2013.

"Both conferences have lost members, Mountain West and Conference-USA, and this creates an entirely new environment…" Natalicio said. "The stability issue is important. Frankly, it's very wearing on everybody. Coaches and certainly me and others to have to adjust to new conference composition. That instability has hurt intercollegiate athletics a lot."

The WAC lost half its members in 1999 when New Mexico, UNLV, BYU, Air Force, San Diego State, Wyoming, Colorado State and Utah left to form the Mountain West. Hawaii and UTEP were in the WAC from 1979-99, Fresno State and UTEP were in the WAC from 1992-99. Rice and Tulsa have been in the seam conference since 1996.

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