Conference USA weighing 16-team model

After adding six new football schools for 2013 and Western Kentucky for the year after, Conference USA might not be done.

C-USA is considering expansion to 16 teams in football, commissioner Britton Banowsky said Monday.

Western Kentucky replaces Tulsa as the 14th C-USA member for 2014. Last week, the Golden Hurricanes bolted to the American Athletic Conference, formerly known as the Big East.

“We’ve modeled it at 16, and it does kind of create some divisions that are a little more geographically connected,” Banowsky said. “We haven’t acted on it. I think personally a larger conference is better because you get some efficiencies, you get the benefit of a bigger group. We don’t want to lose our identity in the process. We’re just kind of moderating the growth at a pace where people are comfortable. It could be folks are just comfortable (at 14).”

Such a proactive move would come during a time of relative small-conference stability -- the AAC, Mountain West and MAC all appear settled. The Sun Belt is deciding whether it wants to dip into the Football Championship Subdivision waters for two more teams.

Banowsky said it’s too early to speculate about potential new members, while adding he’s not sure how flexible his membership will be after rampant change in recent months.

Arkansas State or Louisiana-Lafayette from the Sun Belt, which has lost several teams to C-USA, could be attractive options.

A 16-team league would give C-USA more mouths to feed but could reduce travel costs if teams played primarily within eight-team, geographically friendly divisions.

“Whether or not you get more revenue is the question,” Banowsky said.

C-USA recently signed a television deal with Fox worth a reported $40-plus million and also has media-rights contracts with CBS and ESPN.

Adding two more teams could be preventative in a way -- if the Big Ten raids again, then the ACC takes from the AAC, the AAC takes from C-USA. Going to 16 now could cut out the middleman.

The rippling effects of realignment have forced some smaller conferences to flesh out membership with FCS schools fast-tracking to Division I.

Appalachian State and Georgia Southern joined the Sun Belt in late March, while James Madison and Liberty are candidates to replace Western Kentucky. C-USA is adding Old Dominion and Charlotte.

With the big-money college football playoff looming, FCS Schools are willing to stretch their resources for a chance at the FBS revenue pie. Jacksonville State, Missouri State, Delaware and others could be knocking on the door eventually.

This trend is nothing new. The realignment era of the early 90s, triggered by SEC/Big Ten expansion, pushed Boise State, Nevada, UCF, USF, UConn and others up the pipe.

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