Realignment part of main course at Rally

PARKERSBURG – The dizzying pace of conference realignment has subsided and for Marshall University, that means regional ties with members of Conference USA.

Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick, football coach Doc Holliday and men’s basketball coach Tom Herrion were among the representatives from the Marshall athletic department who were on hand for the meet-and-greet with Thundering Herd fans at Wednesday’s Rally in the Alley conducted in the lot behind North End Tavern.

“With conference realignment, Conference USA becomes more of a regional conference,” Hamrick said. “With schools such as Charlotte, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky and Old Dominion, we now have schools that our fans can drive to. In old Conference USA, you had to get on a plane and go.”

Exiting what used to be a 12-team C-USA are Central Florida, Southern Methodist, Memphis and Houston. For the 2013-2014 academic year, the league will consist of 16 schools. Newcomers include Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee State, North Texas, Old Dominion, Texas-San Antonio and UNC-Charlotte.

One year from now, the conference will experience a slight shift as Tulane, East Carolina and Tulsa depart. Western Kentucky’s arrival will bring the total number of members to 14 schools.

“Western Kentucky is right down the road; Middle Tennessee is close and Charlotte is an easy drive -plus we still have two games in Florida with two south Florida teams which is a big part of our recruiting base,” Holliday said. “If you draw a circle around a six-hour radius around the campuses, there are a lot of good football players.

“When I look at jobs, are they great jobs or not very good jobs. I look at the number of players that are around their schools. If you can recruit to those campuses, they are good jobs.”

In Conference USA’s East Division for football, Marshall is familiar with East Carolina, UAB and Southern Mississippi. In terms of 2013 opponents, the Herd have no previous experience with Florida Atlantic and Texas-San Antonio.

Middle Tennessee State lost its only two meetings in Huntington in 1992 and 1994, while Marshall defeated FIU 20-10 in the 2011 Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl played in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“I think this is going to be an excellent conference,” Holliday said. “When we played FIU in the bowl game, they were a talented bunch. I’m sure that hasn’t changed.”

As for men’s basketball, the league is planning to use a similar format used in recent years at the Big East Conference Tournament where seeds 1-4 receive double byes and seeds 5-8 receive a single bye. Regardless of what format is secured, all 16 C-USA members will participate in the conference tournament in El Paso, Texas.

“As coaches we thought that was really important for everybody to have an opportunity to participate in the conference tournament,” Herrion said. “I’ve said this all along, and now everybody else is kind of figuring it out: With conference realignment, I think the league came back to us.

“From a mathematical standpoint, only three teams were in the eastern time zone. Now we have in upwards of six. Teams are more geographical suitable for our fans to travel.”