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Merging or sharing? Either way, C-USA and MWC working together

by | CBSSports.com College Football Insider
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Dissolving is out. Merging is in.

At least, that's the latest development for the potential new league to be formed from the existing teams from Conference USA and the Mountain West.

In February, the two leagues announced they would dissolve and then reform as one league. The main reason for dissolving was to nullify their current television deals and then creating a new conference to maximize their media rights revenue. However, if the leagues dissolved, then they would lose their NCAA tournament units -- teams earn about $250,000 for their conference for each round they advance in the NCAA tournament and that money is distributed to the conferences after a rolling six-year period. Dissolving the leagues would forfeit C-USA and the Mountain West millions of dollars.

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So now C-USA and the Mountain West are no longer considering dissolving, but instead college football industry sources told CBSSports.com that the leagues are deciding between two options: merge into one league or remain as separate leagues, but share television, marketing and scheduling resources.

"Both are still viable," a source said. "There's really no clubhouse leader."

Which one will they chose? That ultimately will be decided by the league's presidents based on whichever model (merger or remaining separate) will ultimately produce the most television revenue.

There also are several other factors the leagues must consider. If they merge, that means the new league would receive only one automatic NCAA tournament bid.

If they merge in 2013, they would have -- at least for the moment -- 16 members (East Carolina, Marshall, Rice, Southern Mississippi, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB and Texas-El Paso from C-USA and Air Force, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming from the MWC). Hawaii would be a football-only member.

However, they have indicated they could grow to as many as 24 schools.

If they decide to stay as separate leagues, then both leagues would likely pursue additional members from other leagues since each conference has lost several members. The leagues still would operate under the same umbrella and share television revenue, marketing resources and also have a scheduling agreement.

Sources told CBSSports.com that league presidents have been divided into five subgroups to discuss the different facets of the potential merger or remaining as separate leagues.

Tulane President Scott Cowen told The Tulane Hullabaloo, the school's newspaper, last week that the leagues are already working on where the new league will be headquartered.

"We have created the formation agreements to form this new entity and we have groups in place that are working on the TV contracts," Cowen told the Hullabaloo. "There's a possibility of adding new members over the 16 schools. We're working on where we'll headquarter the new association, what will be the management of the new association and we're working on marketing and branding of the new association. So our belief is that it's going to happen.

"The contingency plan is that we would just stay in Conference USA and add new members. But I think there's a very high probability that the new association will be formed with at least 16 schools in it, and there is the possibility that we could go up to 24 schools.

"What we're looking for is stability and long-term growth potential of the conference in terms of TV and revenue, so I think this vehicle we're exploring has the promise to deliver that."

Two weeks ago CBSSports.com reported that as many as 11 schools have been in contact with either C-USA or the Mountain West about their interest in the new league.

Those schools, sources said, were: Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Texas State, Texas-San Antonio and Utah State from the WAC; Florida Atlantic, Florida International and North Texas from the Sun Belt; and Charlotte from the Atlantic 10.

On Friday, FAU President Mary Jane Saunders told FAUOwlAccess.com that the Owls have failed to receive an invitation to join the new league and will remain in the Sun Belt.

"I can tell you we have not been invited to another conference," Saunders told FAUOwlAccess.com. "I think those decisions have already been made. I think it's finished now. ...We're staying in the Sun Belt."

However, sources told CBSSports.com that no invitations to the new league had even been extended because the league's presidents aren't sure if they're merging or remaining separate.

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