We know this much: the UAB football program is dead, for now, along with the rifle and bowling teams.
After fifteen years playing Conference USA football, UAB seems to be on the way out, due to the fact that the conference requires its schools to sponsor football. The school's likely departure from the conference leaves Southern Miss as the only founding member of Conference USA to remain in the conference since its inception. Charlotte left briefly for the Atlantic 10 from 2005-2013, rejoining the conference as a non-football member.
With the re-addition of Charlotte, Conference USA boasted 14 members in its cadre, spanning ten states. Now, CUSA has a gaping hole in the middle of its geographic membership, as several publications pointed to Birmingham as the center of the college football universe. With UAB leaving, Conference USA loses that geographic foothold (though Birmingham counts more Alabama and Auburn fans than UAB fans) and school poised to contend for the Conference USA championship in the future.
While our friends over at Mid-Major Madness discussed conference options for UAB moving forward, we wanted to sort through a variety of schools who might be considered for that 14th spot in Conference USA. With the addition of Charlotte, UAB was expected to move to the West Division, which includes the four Texas schools, La Tech and Southern Miss, so the conference may be looking for a school near those six. However, other schools in the conference might need a travel partner. Who could replace UAB?
University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns- The Rajun Cajuns have been mentioned due to their rabid fanbase (yep, that's a Sun Belt school with a full stadium) and their winning football team- they have three straight New Orleans Bowl wins.
However, a schism between ULL and La Tech exists, and the school is located in Lafayette, which goes against Britton Banowsky's comments about gaining a bigger geographic footprint for Conference USA. Would La Tech put the hate aside for a school that would provide a football upgrade?
Texas State University- The Bobcats present an interesting case. This is a school growing in both athletics and academic cache, and is located in the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos region, one of the fastest growing areas in the country. Texas State has a rivalry already with UTSA, and coaches in Dennis Franchione and Denny Kaspar, that can and have helped elevate the Bobcat's national athletic profile.
A Texas State addition would make 5 Texas schools in the conference- would their conference mates approve of a mini Southwest Conference AND a conference headquarters in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
South Alabama- The one school that replaces UAB in terms of geography... kind of. The Jaguars happen to play four hours from Birmingham, and are yet another "startup" football program, in that they've been playing FBS football for 3 years. Coach Joey Jones has them improving every year, but is Mobile attractive to the conference? Do they want another former Sun Belt program?
Liberty University- A large (13,000 students on campus and 100,000 online) private school currently nestled in FCS and coached by ex-Kansas coach Turner Gil, the Flames have followed the Old Dominion path of selling out their stadium constantly, and are consistent winners in the FCS, sharing the Big South Football championship three straight years.
Liberty has been strongly considering the Conference USA move for awhile, but could the private Evangelical school compete with the bigger budgets (yes, I use that term lightly) of its foes in Conference USA?
James Madison University - How about a travel partner for Old Dominion? The Dukes turned down the Sun Belt earlier this year, but have been exploring other FBS options. A school that would certainly boost the academic profile of the conference (sorry to all alums of member schools) the JMU athletic program would be competitive in their first year in Conference USA.
Once again, the risk is in the brand for Conference USA- do Banowsky and Co. want to be known as the "Conference for Startups"?Other Possibilities: Northern Illinois A good, consistent football school, that while geographically complicated, would bolster the overall competitiveness of the league.
Richmond Though the AD and others have said otherwise, the Spiders and their football program (and academics) would help stabilize the Eastern bloc of CUSA, which lost ECU recently.
Appalachian State Already has a rival in Charlotte and already in FBS.
Coastal Carolina Interesting story with how their program was created, Coach Joe Moglia's fundraising and ingenuity might be a cool fit in the conference.
The GSU's While it might create another imbalance, both schools (well maybe just one) have rabid fanbases, and the Georgia Southern option attack would be a heck of a thing to watch against some of the CUSA defenses.
North Dakota State Travel might be a beating, but with all that oil money, Bison fans wouldn't mind traveling down south for some football, right?