HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Even in the transformation and expansion of Conference USA, which becomes official today, Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick said the conference has come closer to his university's campus.
"We stayed put and monitored what was going on in Conference USA, and it came closer to us," he said. "The conference has come back, geographically, to us."
Many of Marshall's new neighbors, plus another arrival next year, are stationed much closer to Huntington, something that makes Marshall feel like less of a C-USA outpost. When the clock struck midnight today, Houston, the University of Central Florida, Southern Methodist University and Memphis all depart for the new American Athletic Conference. In their place come Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, Middle Tennessee State University, Old Dominion, Charlotte, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and the University of Texas at San Antonio.
In 2014, the conference will say good-bye to Tulsa, East Carolina and Tulane, all headed to the American as well, and welcomes Western Kentucky. Marshall has been a C-USA member since 2005.
The conference has been busy with the transition. It unveiled last week a new-look website and logo that had a few alterations from the previous one. On social media, C-USA has been introducing its new members and, on Sunday, offered its farewell and thanks to the four schools departing this year.
Hamrick said the benefits from the conference's new configuration already are evident. Paramount is location. Of the seven schools leaving either this year or next year, only one - ECU - sits less than 500 miles away. Greenville, N.C. is a 453-mile drive from Huntington.
Of the nine schools entering C-USA over the next two years, four of them - ODU, Charlotte, WKU and MTSU - all sit within 500 miles and of those four, Charlotte, WKU and MTSU all sit within 400 miles. Western Kentucky's Bowling Green campus is closest at 279 miles from Huntington.
"It helps us in what we have to spend on travel," Hamrick said. "And our fans who travel, if they can drive, they'll be able to watch our teams play."
The advantages of location aren't limited to proximity, Hamrick said. The new schools give the conference anchors in new metropolitan areas like Miami-Fort Lauderdale and Charlotte and maintain a presence in areas like Houston and Dallas. Hamrick also mentioned the size of some of these new schools. FIU has more than 50,000 students enrolled, while FAU has more than 29,000. North Texas has more than 33,000 enrolled and UTSA has more than 30,000.
"These schools have great potential, and I think the conference will grow in quality," Hamrick said. "I think we can become very competitive in a short period. These places have a ton of potential resources, in that they have lots of students in big areas."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.r...@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.