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What's Next for Conference USA?

As the landscape of college athletics continues to shift, its time to take a look at what may be in store for Conference USA in the coming years.

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Michael Chang

Earlier this week we learned that San Diego State would remain in the Mountain West Conference, declining an invitation to join the Big East. But, how does this affect Conference USA?

With the Big East 'losing' two schools over the course of about a week, they will likely be looking to reload. And, what better place to look for replacements than C-USA. Rumors have already been swirling that the University of Tulsa is close to receiving a Big East invite, and others could potentially go as well.

If the Hurricane are gone, C-USA would now be left with 13 schools (2014), spanning nearly 2,000 miles, across three time zones and nine states. The league is also left a bit unbalanced as there would only be 5 "western" schools remaining, to go along with 8 "eastern" schools.

The universities currently set to be a part of Conference USA in 2013 include current members East Carolina, Marshall, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB, and UTEP, and new members Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee State, North Texas, Old Dominion, and UTSA.

However, East Carolina and Tulane will be departing for the Big East following the 2013 season, and Charlotte and Old Dominion will likely not be football playing members until 2015. So with Tulsa leaving, the conference will be left with only 11 football playing members for the 2014 season.

The conference would likely look for a replacement for Tulsa in an effort to get the league back to 12 schools for 2014, and 14 beyond that. That school could come from a pool of potential candidates that could include Arkansas State, Western Kentucky, and New Mexico State, among others.

Arkansas State or NMSU would probably make more geographic sense, as they help to create more balance in the league, while WKU would have certain advantages of its own.

Western Kentucky happens to be largest of the three universities, with a student population of over 21,000, but the city of Bowling Green (where it is located) only has a population of 58,000 (127,000 in the metropolitan area). The school also happens to be in the midst of a campus wide renovation with hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into both academics and athletics.

New Mexico State is the second largest of the three universities, with a student population of over 18,000. The city of Las Cruces has the largest population of the three with about 100,000 people (215,000 metro area).

Arkansas State is the smallest of the three universities, with about 16,000 students. The city of Jonesboro, where it is located, is also the smallest of the three cities with only about 67,000 people (115,000 metro area).

Considering the sizes of the cities, none of the universities would bring a national t.v. market worthy of garnering more dollars in contract negotiations, but all bring fairly strong athletics programs in their own right.

Arkansas State is coming off back to back 10 win seasons in football, Western Kentucky has experienced some success in both football and basketball in recent history, and New Mexico State has sent its basketball team to the NCAA tournament twice in the last three years.

However, considering that the strength of a conference comes down to where it stands on the football stage, Arkansas State may be the most attractive candidate. Not only have they experienced the most recent success in football, they are also putting an emphasis on the program by pouring money into it for new facilities.

This fall, Arkansas State announced plans to build a $22 million football facility that would include an indoor practice field, a new football operations building, new sports medicine facilities, locker rooms, training rooms, and much more.

Assuming one of these universities, or another, is to replace Tulsa in Conference USA, the league would look a little something like this in 2014:

Louisiana Tech Florida Atlantic
North Texas Florida International
Rice Marshall
UTEP Middle Tennessee State
UTSA Southern Miss
*Arkansas State/NMSU UAB

However, following that season, the conference would once again have a bit of a shakeup, and would look something more along the lines of this:

Louisiana Tech Charlotte
North Texas Florida Atlantic
Rice Florida International
Southern Miss Marshall
UTEP Middle Tennessee State
UTSA Old Dominion
*Arkansas State/NMSU UAB

Of course, with the Big East potentially needing more than just one school to add, C-USA could lose a few more, and look much different than even this here in the coming years. More than that, at some point, others could be moving west into the Mountain West Conference.

Whatever the case, Conference USA should be ready to respond to any further defections by adding another university that fits the "strategic plan" of the league, because its only a matter of time before they'll actually need to.