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Should Conference USA Seriously Consider Expansion?

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With dwindling TV revenues, C-USA teams look to be losing a little bit of financial steam. Would the addition of JMU and Georgia State into the fold change that problem?

According to one C-USA beat writer, the secret to growth is adding James Madison and Georgia State.
According to one C-USA beat writer, the secret to growth is adding James Madison and Georgia State.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Conference USA finds itself in a turbulent offseason entering the new year. After having the Charlotte 49ers play their first season of FBS football and UAB reinstate their team for a return in 2017, the conference sits at 13 football-playing members.

Besides team reshuffling, the conference will lose about $500,000 in TV revenues per team due to the restructuring of their deal with CBS Sports and Fox Sports Network and the loss of ESPN as their championship game network.

Facing that lack of revenue, Harry Minium, the Old Dominion beat writer of The Virginian-Pilot, suggests having the conference expand to keep up with Power Five schools and add two teams to get to 16 total (a move that would give them the most teams out of any FBS conference). In his column, he tabs FCS's James Madison for inclusion in C-USA East and Georgia State of the Sun Belt for the West division.

His reasoning primarily consists of geographic proximity, adding that C-USA teams would have to play one less football game and two less basketball games during the season against the West.

With the impending revenue split from a proposed expansion, Minium suggest that the $2 million in fees would help cushion the adjustment in shared revenue lost.

While the plan seems like a nice financial windfall in the short term, the move itself just doesn't feel possible.

Take Georgia State for example. Currently in the Sun Belt, a move out of the conference would take them out of a favorable revenue share (11 programs, 12 with the addition of Coastal Carolina's football program in 2017).

While they have a smaller share of revenue than C-USA, they have a favorable geographic alignment and their costs are at a minimum.

If they were to leave, they would also lose out on the potential for growth in their current conference and have to shell out $2 million just to make the move, not exactly pocket change for any G5 school.

JMU presents another case. One of the top dogs in FCS football, the program has been making moves to prepare for a potential move to the FBS. As stated by Minium, they would have the largest budget in the conference at $44 million and have a recently expanded stadium to house their team.

The school says that it is waiting for an opportunity to join the FBS ranks but cutting ties with the Colonial (CAA) may not service the Bulldogs' other programs as they would increase their travel costs and destroy rivalries they have been developing since 1979.

Expansion may be a nice way to add fast cash to the revenue sharing pot for all the C-USA programs. However, if the conference can't find themselves a favorable TV deal in the current environment expansion would only slowly take money away from other programs.

When the Athletic Directors from C-USA schools meet from Jan. 25-27, expansion should not be on their minds at all. Instead, they should focus on finding the right TV deal that is sustainable for their programs, especially since the conference is without a guaranteed TV home for their championship game next year.