C-USA's newfound unity has Banowsky satisfied
By Gary Parrish, Memphis Commercial Appeal
May 21, 2006
DESTIN, Fla. -- Britton Banowsky has been in charge of Conference USA for nearly four years, and he's endured one of the more drastic shake-ups in NCAA history.
So did Cincinnati.
For the remaining schools, including the University of Memphis, the challenge to be competitive without the advantage of having a Bowl Championship Series label has proved difficult. C-USA's status in the NCAA hierarchy slipped in a way that was, in fairness, probably unavoidable given the circumstances under which the Big East grabbed five key members.
Still, things are moving forward.
C-USA has a football title game that was wildly successful last year (Tulsa beat UCF before a crowd of more than 50,000), and baseball (with the addition of Rice) is better than ever. On the other hand, men's basketball, long the league's premier sport, finished 13th in the RPI last season despite the Tigers going 33-4 and earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before losing to UCLA in the Elite Eight.
Before the C-USA Spring Meetings concluded Thursday at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort and Spa, Banowsky addressed those issues ... and more. He acknowledged the need for improvement in some areas and detailed what needs to happen for his league to grow in every aspect.
Q: How did these meetings go overall, having, for the most part, just completed your first year of schools competing against each other under the new league alignment?
A: I thought there would be a period of time where once we started competing against each other and we had winners and losers, then it would be more difficult to move together as a group. But what we encountered was just the opposite. Our group is working as well together as they ever have and better than any conference that I've ever been associated with in terms of working hard on the issues and cooperating at all levels. And so I continue to be very encouraged by the approach taken by our members to the conference. They all seem to have a genuine desire to see the conference grow and succeed.
Q: Is there one thing you've identified as something that must improve over the next year?
A: All of our sports are important, but I've got to say improving in men's basketball. There is no greater priority for us.
Q: How has the transition phase been?
A: I think our transition was a fairly seamless one, or as seamless as it could be given the dramatic nature of the circumstances. We've now gotten through one competitive year. We've benchmarked it, and we're getting after it. We have great resources and wonderful communities. Our markets are terrific and our universities, for the most part, are growing, not only in enrollment but also in community demographics and those kinds of things. So the future looks pretty bright for us.
Q: Is that BCS hurdle too much to jump?
A: I think Memphis, for example, is a case in point. John (Calipari) had a team this year that was a No. 1 seed. I mean, there are barriers for us, and (the non-BCS status) is a barrier. But it's not an insurmountable barrier.
Q: Looking ahead, where do you want this league in five years? What are the long-term goals?
A: Five years from now I want to be able to look back on this and say three things: One, that we flat-out won national championships in a variety of our sports because we want to compete at the very highest level. Two, that we've graduated our student-athletes. That's equally important. And three, I want us to be connected with our communities. Again, we have great markets. So I want to win those championships, graduate our kids and have the people in our communities caring about us.