Rumblings of potential conference realignment are being felt again in college sports and Charlotte 49ers athletics director Judy Rose is closely monitoring the situation.
“At the moment, there’s a lot of speculation and it seems to change every day,” Rose said to the Observer in an email. “We have to be alert, of course, and aware of what’s going on.”
The latest potential conference realignment and expansion news is emanating from the 10-team Big 12, which is considering increasing to 12 teams, primarily so it can have a football championship game similar to the Football Bowl Subdivision’s other “Power Five” leagues – the ACC, SEC, Big 10 and Pac-12. Big 12 officials believe a title game would improve the league’s chances each season of landing a spot in the College Football Playoff.
While Charlotte isn’t considered a potential expansion candidate for the Big 12, the 49ers could be impacted by any movement in and around their current league, Conference USA.
“If (the Big 12) decide(s) to expand, there will be a trickle down and in some form or fashion it will impact our conference and each of the schools,” said Rose. “So, yes we have to pay close attention.”
Charlotte has been down this road before.
If (the Big 12) decide(s) to expand, there will be a trickle down and in some form or fashion it will impact our conference and each of the schools.
Charlotte 49ers athletics director Judy Rose
Three years ago, the 49ers moved from the non-football Atlantic 10 – where they had been members since 2005 – to Conference USA, which plays in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The 49ers, who started football in 2013, originally planned on playing in the Football Championship Subdivision indefinitely. But the 49ers were offered a spot in C-USA after it lost schools such as Memphis, Houston, Central Florida, Southern Methodist, Tulane and Tulsa to the newly formed American Athletic Conference.
If the Big 12 elects to expand, there is speculation that several schools in what are now “Group of Five” conferences might be candidates. Among them: the AAC’s Memphis, Cincinnati, Houston, Connecticut and Central Florida; and the Mountain West’s Colorado State. Football-independent Brigham Young is also reportedly interested.
The 49ers are in the country’s 22nd-largest TV market, offer a strong recruiting base and excellent facilities.
Should any of those AAC schools move to the Big 12, could Charlotte be a possible “trickle-down” replacement in what might be a more attractive league? With the lack of football no longer a barrier, the 49ers would offer the country’s 22nd-largest television market, excellent facilities, a strong recruiting base, as well as an instant rival for current AAC member East Carolina.
The AAC’s football and men’s basketball profiles are also higher than Conference USA’s. The AAC’s basketball RPI ranked eighth nationally last season; C-USA’s was 22nd. As many as three AAC football teams (Memphis, Temple and Houston) spent time in the top 25 last season.
3 Years the 49ers have played football
Another possible factor for Rose to consider might be C-USA’s television revenues, which reportedly are decreasing by more than 50 percent after current contracts expire this summer. According to the Virginian Pilot, rights fees from Fox Sports, the American Sports Network and the CBS Sports Network will shrink from $1.17 million to between $300,000 and $400,000 per school. C-USA’s existing deal was negotiated before national basketball powers such as Memphis and Southern Methodist left the league for the AAC, which has a television deal worth a reported $2 million per school annually.
There is even bigger thinking for the 49ers in some quarters. A recent column on ESPN.com suggested Charlotte would be a good addition to – believe it or not – the SEC if the FBS were to be trimmed to include only five 16-team leagues.
“… Would (the SEC) consider rolling the dice on a fledgling like Charlotte?” wrote Ryan McGee, a Charlotte resident. “It’s a big media market located just up the road from South Carolina, a school the ACC wants nothing to do with, and the home of SEC Network HQ. Just sayin …”