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Rice makes it official

Rice has signed on the dotted line to join Conference USA, along with SMU and Tulsa, thus rejoining its former mates Houston and TCU.

Rice University president Malcolm Gillis signed an agreement Friday with Conference USA, paving the way for the Owls to begin play in the league beginning with the 2005-06 academic year.

In a statement released by the university Friday, Gillis said the agreement is “contingent upon certain other changes in the national athletic scene,” most likely the anticipated departure of current C-USA members Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette and DePaul to the Big East.

“We’re still waiting for the last little piece to the puzzle, but the agreement is in place,” Rice athletic director Bobby May said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to be a part of Conference USA. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and it’s going to be challenging. We’re very excited.”

SMU president Gerald Turner and Tulsa president Robert Lawless issued similar statements, meaning both schools will follow Rice to a revamped 12-team league.

Rice, SMU and Tulsa will join Houston, Tulane and TCU in a Western Division of C-USA, which the schools hope will ease the demanding travel burdens they’ve found in the WAC and help foster regional rivalries.

“This configuration will allow for very substantial savings in travel costs,” Gillis said in the statement. “Even more important, the proximity of these schools will benefit our men’s and women’s athletic teams through large reductions in time away from class.

“We especially welcome the opportunity to renew old Southwest Conference rivalries with TCU and the University of Houston. We expect to have in the near future a formal announcement with Conference USA regarding its membership realignment.”

I guess that means the MOB will be able to dust off its Annual Salute To The New Conference for 2005. Maybe now we’ll finally get some stability.

As for the WAC, the future looks kinda grim to me.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson had been hoping to lure TCU, UH and Tulane away from C-USA but lost the tug of war between the two leagues.

“I’m obviously disappointed and wanted Rice, SMU and Tulsa to be part of a Central Time Zone division that would have provided them exactly what they expect to receive from Conference USA,” Benson said. “I knew that one of us was probably going to lose, and Conference USA probably had the advantage in that they had the existing claim to the region. We’ll certainly miss those schools, but I strongly believe the WAC will recover and go on and be successful in some configuration.”

Benson had tried to get Rice, Tulsa and SMU to sign an agreement binding them to the WAC, but the schools were concerned about the lack of commitment from the teams in the western portion of the league. The Mountain West Conference is eyeing some WAC teams for expansion, including Fresno State, Nevada, Boise State and Hawaii.

The WAC could perhaps add schools like Utah State and New Mexico State and retrench as a mostly Western conference, or it could give up the ghost and let the MWC pick off its ripest fruit. Either way, the school that gets most screwed is Louisiana Tech, who loses its three closest rivals and probably faces the choice of lousy travel, independent status, or rejoining the conference it had previously spurned, the Sun Belt. UTEP is also a loser, though less so if the WAC stays toegther and adds NMSU. We’ll see what happens, but I expect it to be as bumpy in the WAC between now and 2005 as it was the year that the eight MWC schools dropped their surprise departure on us.

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2 Comments

  1. Linkmeister says:

    There’s a column in our local paper today saying that Hawai’i declined to sign that agreement, hoping to join the MWC if expansion happened. Not sure how good the guy’s source is, but I do think UH would like to rekindle some of the football rivalries from the old WAC (BYU, SDSU, etc.). On the other hand, this mucks up baseball for good and fair.

  2. There’s been speclation about Hawaii and Fresno going to the MWC almost since Day One, and truthfully those four schools would be a good and natural fit with the MWC. It does leave UTEP and LaTech dangling in the wind, though.

    From Rice’s perspective, this is great for baseball. UHouston, Tulane, East Carolina, UCF, and TCU are all good-to-excellent baseball programs, and the travel budget will get a breather. The MWC is not very stong in baseball, so it’s a net loss for Hawaii there.