Conference USA fans were served with some shocking news today as Britton Banowsky announced that he is stepping down as commissioner after 13 years at the helm of CUSA. Needless to say, the conference has seen a ton of change throughout Banowsky's tenure.
When Banowsky took control of the conference in 2002, football-playing members included Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, Tulane, Houston, East Carolina, Army, and TCU. That group of programs is hardly in the same stratosphere as today's CUSA which includes household brands such as Western Kentucky, Middle Tennesse State and UTSA.
Banowsky's legacy and reputation seems to vary wildly depending on the allegiances of the fanbase that you are polling. Fans of founding members such as Southern Miss and UAB know of the former glory of CUSA and hate that Banowsky wasn't able to retain rising powerhouses like Louisville and TCU.
Fans of the "new" Conference USA such as FAU and Louisiana Tech appreciate Banowsky for welcoming them into the league during a tumultuous period of realignment that was terrifying for most mid-major programs.
As with most things in life, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Hypothetically, Banowsky could have delivered a killing blow to the Big East in 2005 and retained the five members that defected in 2005. In reality, the Big East had much more attractive resources to offer, even after losing three programs.
The landscape of college football is fluid but the class division between conferences is very rigid. To expect the defecting programs to act outside of their own self interest is illogical.
With that truth in mind, Banowsky should be praised for keeping Conference USA among the premier mid-major conferences in college athletics throughout his 13 years as commissioner. His additions to the conference in both of the major 2005 and 2013 realignment phases were forward thinking and relatively successful.
By adding major media markets and quickly-rising football programs such as UTSA and Old Dominion, Banowsky has left the conference in a favorable position moving forward.
Several key questions remain to be answered following Banowsky's resignation.
How will the next commissioner view the UAB situation?
Banowsky has been a strong supporter of UAB for years and welcomed the program back into CUSA despite the Blazers' temporary demise. It is feasible that Banowsky's replacement could see the UAB dependency as an unworthy gamble and explore exterior options such as bringing South Alabama or one of the Georgia Sunbelt programs into the fold.
How will this affect TV contract negotiations?
Conference USA's TV contract ends on June 30, 2016. The conference is in ongoing negotiations to extend and/or replace deals with Fox Sports, CBS Sports and ESPN. Securing lucrative TV contract deals will be key in solidifying CUSA's future as a Group of 5 competitor in all sports.
Will the next commissioner be able to resurrect CUSA hoops?
There's little debate that Conference USA has diminished greatly as a mid-major basketball force during the tail-end of Banowsky's tenure. The latest realignment additions boast basketball programs that range from solid to pathetic. If the next commissioner decides to focus on restoring basketball legitimacy he or she will have their work cut out for them.
How will you remember Banowsky's time as Conference USA's commissioner? How do you see the conference moving forward?