Opinion: Conference realignment in the wake of the coronavirus would be a win for FAU

A C-USA and Sun Belt merger is good for all teams involved.


To Sports Editor Jensen Jennings, a merger between Conference USA and the Sun Belt Conference would be great for all parties involved. Graphic by Creative Director Michelle Rodriguez.

Jensen Jennings, Sports Editor

The world of college athletics is facing an uncertain future. With the coronavirus still having a major impact in states around the country, it is putting the upcoming college football season in jeopardy. 

Universities have already lost millions of dollars thanks to the Men’s and Women’s basketball tournaments (March Madness) being shut down due to the coronavirus. 

Without a college football season, athletic programs across the country will continue to lose millions of dollars. That revenue loss won’t just hurt the football programs; it will have a huge impact on non-revenue sports as well. 

In Conference USA (C-USA) alone we’ve seen FIU shut down its men’s indoor track and field team and Old Dominion University do the same with their wrestling program. If college football isn’t played this season, more schools in C-USA will have to make these tough decisions with some of their non-revenue sports. 

With all the uncertainty facing college athletics, I think now is the time for C-USA and the Sun Belt Conference to finally have serious conversations about merging together. It makes too much sense with the growing concerns faced by athletic departments across both conferences. 

Football Scoop published an article in May where they tackled this same issue. The way they broke down the new conferences was perfect, it would cut down travel for teams in both conferences and all division opponents would be in a more geographic location, prime for new rivalries and easy road trips for fans. 

This change would be beneficial for each athletic department in both conferences. No more sending your volleyball team 1,889 miles to El Paso for a conference game against UTEP. Instead, the distance to FAU’s furthest conference opponent would be almost cut in half to 1,001 miles to Marshall University in Huntington, WV.

FAU is currently in a division with Charlotte, FIU, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion and Western Kentucky. In this proposal, FAU would now be in a division with Coastal Carolina, FIU, Georgia Southern, Georgia State and South Alabama. 

With the merger, the Owls would still have cross-division games against old C-USA foes. Appalachian State, Charlotte, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, and Western Kentucky would make up the other half of the conference. 

The merger also opens up the opportunity for FAU students and fans to travel to division and conference road games. One of the cool experiences for college students is getting to go on a road trip with a few friends to see your school play a conference opponent in football or basketball. 

This new conference realignment would not only be beneficial to the athletic department, but it would also be beneficial to the aforementioned fan bases of each team in the conference. Instead of FAU fans having to travel 1,001 miles to Huntington, West Virginia for a division game, their furthest road trip would only be 692 miles to the University of South Alabama in Mobile. While games against Marshall would still happen, they won’t be every season like they currently are.

Instead of being in a division where no teams share a border with the state of Florida, FAU would be in a division with three teams bordering the state and Coastal Carolina, which is only a 652-mile drive to Conway, South Carolina. 

The closest current division opponent for FAU, besides FIU, is Charlotte. That is a 698-mile trip for FAU students to make. With the new division set-up, the closest division opponent would be Georgia Southern in Statesboro. That trip is only 478 miles, which is much more doable for a group of students to turn into a weekend road trip to support the Owls. 

With these shorter road trips for fans, it has the potential to create new rivalries and help boost the attendance for conference home games. How many times have you been to an FAU game and noticed the visiting side is nearly empty? Personally, it’s been too many to count. 

According to a July 2019 article from College Football News, FAU ranked 116 out of 130 teams in home football attendance for the previous five seasons with an avg. attendance of 15,560. In C-USA only FIU, UAB, and Charlotte had a lower total average.

Being in South Florida means we’re within driving distance to all the major city hubs for alumni from our new division opponents. Those alumni would now have a reason to check out FAU Stadium which will only further boost revenue for the athletic department. 

This new realignment would also be good for the overall perception of the conference nationally. Appalachian State would add another AP top 25 contending Group of Five schools for football. In 2013 Georgia Southern became the first non-FBS school to beat the Florida Gators in football, while Georgia State beat Tennessee in football during the 2019 season. In 2016 Coastal Carolina won the College World Series which is the National Championship for college baseball. 

With the unknown future for college athletics, I think this is important for C-USA and the Sun Belt to discuss. These smaller Group of Five schools cannot continue traveling almost 2,000 miles to play a conference game. It also doesn’t make sense to fly over states to face division opponents, when you could save money by busing to schools that are closer instead. 

Everyone will be impacted by the coronavirus in one way or another, but now is the time for both conferences to seriously consider realignment to ensure they don’t come out on the losing side of the blows dealt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jensen Jennings is the sports editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @Jensen_Jennings.