Sunday, September 05, 1999


Conference USA ready to welcome TCU, SMU

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There are some questions Conference USA commissioner Mike Slive is cautious about answering — his background as an attorney is always on retainer — but he says much when the league's potential expansion is compared to the sad recent history of the Western Athletic Conference.

        The WAC fell apart last year, when half the league's members decided 16 teams was too many and it was costing them money to share revenue with so many schools.

        Among the teams jilted by Utah, New Mexico and the other members of the new Mountain West Conference are TCU and SMU, the two schools that have been targeted by C-USA.

        “I think there's a tendency to jump to that analogy,” Slive said. “In a sense, I think the WAC was very different in that they had 16 institutions that were trying to play both basketball and football.”

        Conference USA would have 14 full members, 10 of which play football, plus two football-only members in Army and East Carolina. “I think size is a factor they want me to look at,” Slive said, “but when you look at size, you have to look at how many are playing football and how many are playing basketball.”

        C-USA may be slightly different than the WAC, but given that league's experience trying to operate with more than 12 basketball teams and the similar mess that's been made of the Big East, there is plenty of cause to wonder if this is a good idea.

        Now that it has 13 members playing an unbalanced schedule, the Big East no longer draws the crowds it did when it had nine members who played each other twice a season. And without the crowds, it's become more difficult for some Big East teams to attract players.

        Although Slive was given two weeks by the league presidents to investigate the possibility of expansion, there is little doubt it will happen.

        Expansion requires a three-fourths vote of the full membership and a two-thirds vote of the football members. The votes appear to be in place.

        SMACKING THE WAC: Among those who expect TCU and SMU to join Conference USA are the remaining members of the WAC, schools such as Fresno State, UTEP and Tulsa.

        They're still getting over the breakup of the 16-team WAC, and now they'll have to deal with adding the likes of Boise State and Utah State. That essentially will make the WAC a mid-major conference.

        This is the second time in a year WAC commissioner Karl Benson has had to deal with members walking out. He said he will lobby to keep the league together but is looking forward to a resolution of this issue after months of rumors.

        “I would rather go through this process, or that Conference USA go through this process, and within 30 days everyone knows what the future will be rather than every month rumors and speculation and panic attacks go across our conference,” Benson said.

        A BEAR OF SEARCH: Although it would seem difficult to find a capable coach willing to replace a Hall of Famer like Don Haskins, UTEP has encountered no shortage of candidates in its search for a new head coach.

        Athletic director Bob Stull spoke last week with two top assis tants, Jason Rabedeaux of Oklahoma and Jim Saia of UCLA, along with UT-San Antonio head coach Tim Carter.

        Also on the list of candidates were Kentucky assistant Shawn Finney and Jackson State coach Andy Stoglin, who played for Haskins at UTEP in the 1960s.

        Stull is expected to make a hire this week, with Carter considered the leading candidate.

        AROUND THE RIM: The NCAA's eligibility clearinghouse continues to claim victims. One of the latest is point guard Demon Brown, who signed at UNC Charlotte but was ruled ineligible on a technicality. He is back at Maine Central Institute for another year of prep school and has reaffirmed his intent to play college ball at UNCC.

        • Kentucky got some disappointing recruiting news when 6-10 forward Jared Jeffries of Bloomington, Ind., cut UK from the list of schools he's considering. Jeffries is ranked among the nation's top 10 prospects, but he plays the same small forward position as Wildcats sophomore Tayshaun Prince. It appears likely IU will land Jeffries, who also dropped Arizona.

        • New Pittsburgh coach Ben Howland has a commitment from 6-2 shooting guard Julius Page of Buffalo's Turner-Carroll High, the school that produced incoming UC freshman Leonard Stokes.

        • Rumors persist that Maryland is no longer enamored of 6-3 guard Tamir Goodman of Baltimore, who is nicknamed the “Jewish Jordan.” An Orthodox Jew who cannot play between sundown Friday and Saturday, he committed to the Terps as a junior and has gotten tremendous publicity. But although he showed some flaws in spring and summer events, Maryland insiders deny the school is pulling its scholarship offer.


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