Caulton Tudor • staff columnist
It’s difficult to believe the merger of Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference - in the 2013-14 school year - will significantly change ECU’s football and basketball programs.
The planned merger, announced Monday, could lead to the creation of an 18-team - perhaps 24 - jumbo union that might include Hawaii at one geographical extreme and ECU at the other.
There will be a league football championship game for sure. And if the conference winds up including 24 teams, there could be football semifinals in addition to the title game.
Details of how the league might operate are incomplete. A statement released by school presidents Scott Cowen (Tulane, in Conference USA) and Neal Smatresk (UNLV, in the Mountain West) said planning meetings among school officials will be conducted during the next six months.
While 18-24 football programs should be reasonably attractive to television networks for contract bargaining purposes, many of the current football and basketball series will remain basically the same.
In a 24-team league, there would four six-team divisions. If the membership is limited to 18, there would probably be two nine-team divisions.
ECU almost certainly would continue its football games against Marshall, Southern Miss, Alabama-Birmingham and Tulane.
When C-USA members Southern Methodist, Houston, Memphis and Central Florida move to the Big East in 2012-13 or perhaps later, the Pirates could lose regularly scheduled games against all four.
But the bigger issue hasn’t changed much for the Pirates, who have more fans and generally more football success than any of their peers but can’t make an upgrade in conference status.
The ACC and Big East don’t think ECU has enough of a television market base to justify getting a bid.
If traditional athletic logic carried any weight, the Pirates long ago would have been in the ACC or the Big East.
But since conference leaders in the ACC and Big East care more about annexing television markets than programs and fan bases with true regional athletic substance, the Pirates can’t catch a break. The planned mega-conference will not change that problem.