Marshall athletics: Some Herd fans on board with C-USA additions
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- A Conference USA where Marshall's division foes are reachable by car instead of plane? Some Thundering Herd fans are ready for that.
The new-look C-USA changed its face even more in recent days, with the official announcements that both Middle Tennessee State and Florida Atlantic will replace the departing Tulane and East Carolina.
The Green Wave heads to the Big East in all sports, while ECU will join the Big East in football only.
FAU and MTSU will join in all sports in 2014. Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and the University of Texas at San Antonio join in all sports in 2013.
Old Dominion and Charlotte officially join in all sports but football in 2013, and in football in 2015.
ODU will play a C-USA schedule in 2014, but will technically be an independent.
If the divisions align as expected, some of Marshall's division opponents get a lot closer. The current C-USA East includes Marshall, Memphis, ECU, UAB, UCF and Southern Mississippi. A new C-USA East could include Marshall, Charlotte, ODU, UAB, MTSU, FAU and FIU.
While that gives the Herd two Florida division opponents instead of one, it also provides opponents in Charlotte, N.C., Norfolk, Va., and Nashville, Tenn.
Some Herd fans have taken to their Twitter feeds and the message boards to groan about the changes, saying they don't want to be in a conference of C-USA leftovers and former Sun Belt teams. Those interviewed before Marshall's Wednesday men's basketball game against Morehead State said the new closer schools could spur them to attend more away games.
"When we were in the Mid-American Conference, we went to all the away games," said Mike Chandler, a 1968 Marshall graduate who lives in Cincinnati. "Nashville's a great city. My wife's originally from Richmond, so there's the trip to Norfolk, and Charlotte is a great town. I'm becoming more and more excited."
Marshall could get another local opponent, if reports from the Sun-Sentinel in Florida come to fruition. The newspaper reported that Western Kentucky and New Mexico State are next in line for a C-USA invitation. C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky said Thursday he didn't know where those reports came from and wouldn't speculate.
Huntington resident Robert Aylor and his son, 15-year-old Robert Jr., also like that C-USA is coming closer to home. Robert Sr. also fondly remembered jumping in his car and driving to watch Marshall play its MAC opponents. He said there's a much better chance he'll take some C-USA road trips to watch the Herd's new adversaries, rather than hop a plane to fly to Mississippi.
Robert Jr. figured fans of Marshall's new foes would take advantage of the proximity as well.
"It'll be better for teams to come here," he said. "(For current C-USA teams) it's not going to be the fun and excitement you want, because you drove all this way and now you have to pay for a hotel and all this. Now that teams are getting closer, it might be easier for teams to drive here and drive back."
Amy Holly and Ryan Alton are current Marshall juniors from Fayetteville. The two likely will be out of school with degrees in hand by the time C-USA's transformation is complete. But they plan on returning to watch Marshall games and feel it will be easier to make away games, too. Holly also smiled at the possibility of booking an annual South Florida trip to watch Marshall football.
Still, some changes saddened them.
"I'm disappointed that ECU is gone," Alton said. "It kind of takes away from the history. It's going to be good that we mix things up a bit, but it's going to be weird without ECU there."
That was some of the mildest dissent of C-USA's moves. Some Marshall fans hopped on social media and fan sites, called the moves a mistake and begged Athletic Director Mike Hamrick to find a exit from the conference. Chandler has seen those message board posts, too. He's also followed conference realignment, and feels that Marshall is in the best position can be, considering its situation.
"We are who we are," Chandler said. "I wouldn't necessarily turn down a bid to the Big East, but at this point, where we are, this is a great league for us."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.