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Derek Redd: Move from C-USA not as beneficial as believed

The main goal of college athletics' Realign-mageddon, which mercifully came to a halt this past year following a lengthy reign of terror, was improving image.

Sure, it had to do with increased revenue streams, better access to bigger bowls, greater exposure and a bunch of other stuff, but image essentially was everything. Improve your image and everything else follows. How does a college athletic program improve its image?

One way is to move to a cooler neighborhood.

So a bunch of teams with a chance to move did. Big 12 teams jumped to the SEC. Big East teams hopped to the Big 12 and the ACC. An ACC team even moved to the Big Ten.

And a horde of Conference USA teams began an exodus to the Conference Formerly Known as the Big East, the American Athletic Conference.

The University of Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and Southern Methodist went this year. Tulsa, East Carolina and Tulane leave next year. Their idea was that in pairing with the erstwhile Big East football schools they would earn the image boost they craved and felt they couldn't achieve in Conference USA.

Now it's a tiny, tiny example of an athletic conference's public image, but when the Maxwell Award watch list came out Monday, the American's teams scanned it and saw just a trio of C-USA players among the names. Surely they breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed in the satisfaction of their two names on that same list.

Wait, what?

According to the Maxwell's selection committee - charged with picking, in its mind, the top college football player in the nation - there are more players in those teams' former conference worthy of consideration than there are in its current conference. Again, in the grand scheme, that watch list is but a grain of sand on the beach of public perception. But media outlets that cover the 76 players named Monday made sure to broadcast the announcement.

It may be one grain of sand, but right now that's one shiny grain.

Couple that with an Orlando Sentinel story detailing the difficulties the American is having in locking up new bowl agreements. Its Pinstripe and Belk Bowl automatic invitations are gone and its Russell Athletic Bowl invitation could be out the door as well.

It's looking more and more like those seven C-USA expatriates aren't getting what they bargained for in filling out those change-of-address forms.

Yet that watch list doesn't just show the possible folly of those newly and nearly minted American teams. It also shows how much work C-USA needs to do in buffing its own image. Among the players on that Maxwell list are three from C-USA, two from the American and seven from the Mid-American Conference.

That wasn't a typo. The conference that Marshall escaped to join C-USA and that UCF escaped to join C-USA before it escaped C-USA to join the American has more Maxwell watch list members than the other two combined.

And all is not totally well in C-USA's bowl structure, either. There's a good chance it will lose the Liberty Bowl, long-time home to the conference's champion, and its official relationship with the Military Bowl lasts all of one year. After being an official C-USA bowl tie-in for 2013, ESPN reported it becomes an ACC-American match for the next six years.

But C-USA was expected to find some bumps in the road. How could it not, when seven teams leave over two years? Those seven teams' move to the American was supposed to be a step up. Was it?

In the end, those former and soon-to-be-former C-USA teams transplanted themselves in a different neighborhood, but it's still on the same side of town. And it's nowhere near the gated community that houses the "Power 5" conferences.

(And for the folks who groused that Marshall didn't hop on that realignment bandwagon, understand that the Thundering Herd is sitting in about the same place it would if it jumped to the American, except it didn't have to pay for movers.)

It's another example of the distinct middle class that's forming in college football. Some folks, like Louisville, can escape it. Others, like Tulane, can't. In the quest for a more attractive image, sometimes some costly alterations are involved.

The shame is, after that overhaul, the reflection in the mirror isn't always much different.

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.


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