Sports
12:37 pm
Mon April 1, 2013

WKU to Join Conference USA in All Sports in 2014

(left to right) WKU President Gary Ransdell, Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky, and WKU Athletic Director Todd Stewart at Monday's announcement
Credit Kevin Willis

Citing increased exposure and football bowl game opportunities, WKU President Gary Ransdell and Athletic Director Todd Stewart announced Monday that the school will join Conference USA on July 1, 2014.

Following a unanimous vote by the WKU Board of Regents late Monday morning, WKU officials and the Conference USA commissioner held a news conference a short time later announcing the pact.

C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky said WKU brings a lot to the conference.

“We want to provide an opportunity to the next generation of great universities, and (WKU) certainly fits that profile. I think they’re a growing university connected to some large markets like Nashville and Louisville, and frankly I think they have a tradition of excellence,” said Banowsky.

WKU will play one more season in the Sun Belt, a conference WKU joined in 1982.

President Ransdell says he began informal talks with the Conference USA commissioner about a year ago. He says those talks picked up steam in recent weeks following Tulsa’s decision to leave C-USA to join the soon-to-be-renamed Big East.

“The commissioner and I have been friends for the past few years,” said Dr. Ransdell. “You talk, and you speculate, and we were pretty low-key up until the course of the last several months. And with some of the moves that were made recently, and with the footprint of the Sun Belt Conference changing so dramatically, we determined that it was time for us to try to control our own destiny, and I reached out to Britton, and he was responsive.”

“We stayed in touch over the last several months and things finally came together this past week.”

President Ransdell and Athletic Director Todd Stewart said they’re looking forward to the school’s renewed athletic rivalries with former conference mates Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion, and Alabama-Birmingham.

Conference USA membership in 2013-14 will include Charlotte, East Carolina, Florida International, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB, UTEP, Texas-San Antonio, with Charlotte and Old Dominion not competing in football.

Dr. Ransdell said Conference USA’s five football bowl-game contracts were another major factor in WKU’s interest in joining the league. WKU played in a bowl game last season as a member of the Sun Belt, but Ransdell pointed out the league had fewer opportunities than C-USA.

“The year before that, we were left out. We were bowl eligible and didn’t go. The Sun Belt had a team this past year and didn’t go. Since Commissioner Banowsky has been in this position, that has never happened to Conference USA. We like the possibility of being able to compete for one of the five bowl contracts,” the WKU President said.

For sports fans, coaches, and athletes, the past few years have been a whirlwind of schools jumping from one conference to another, trying to better position themselves financially through increased television revenues and bowl opportunities.

WKU Public Radio asked C-USA commissioner Banowsky if he thought the game of conference musical chairs is coming to an end.

He compared the situation to a merry-go-round.

“I hope we can unplug the electricity on it and let it rest,” Banowsky said. “It may eventually get plugged back in at a later date. But my expectation and my hope is that this may be it for this round.”

Update at 12:37 p.m:

A news conference was held Monday afternoon at WKU where school officials officially announced the school is joining Conference USA. WKU will become a member July 1, 2014.

WKU President Gary Ransdell, Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky, and WKU Athletic Director Todd Stewart spoke at the event.

Conference USA membership in 2013-14 will include Charlotte, East Carolina, FIU, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB, UTEP and UTSA, with Charlotte and Old Dominion not competing in football.

Updated at 11:50am:  The WKU Board of Regents has voted unanimously to allow WKU athletics to join Conference USA.

Updated at 9:05am:

Western Kentucky University will announce a membership agreement with Conference USA for its athletic programs beginning on July 1, 2014 in a press conference at noon (CT) Monday in the Jack and Jackie Harbaugh Stadium Club at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.

The upcoming 2013-14 academic year will be WKU's last as a member of the Sun Belt Conference, which it joined prior to the 1982-83 academic year.

Conference USA membership in 2013-14 will include Charlotte, East Carolina, FIU, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB, UTEP and UTSA, with Charlotte and Old Dominion not competing in football.

In addition to reuniting with current Sun Belt Conference members FIU, Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee and North Texas, beginning in 2014-15 WKU will once again be in a conference with former Sun Belt Conference foes Charlotte, Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion and UAB. Furthermore, WKU and Marshall were founding members of the Ohio Valley Conference in 1948.

Sun Belt Conference membership in 2013-14 will include UALR, Arkansas State, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayette, ULM, South Alabama, Texas-Arlington, Texas State, Troy and WKU, with UALR and Texas-Arlington not competing in football.

Original post:

The WKU Board of Regents is meeting late Monday morning to take up the issue of the school going to Conference USA. WKU's athletic conference affiliation is the only issue on the agenda for the 11:30 a.m. meeting.

News broke over the weekend that WKU received an invitation to join Conference USA in 2014.

WKU is currently a member of the Sun Belt conference. If, as expected, WKU leaves the Sun Belt, James Madison and Liberty are considered two of the top candidates to replace the Hilltoppers.

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