Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Mountain West, Conference USA still moving forward with plans to unite

FRANK SCHWAB Updated: March 27, 2012 at 12:00 am

The message from the Mountain West and Conference USA is that their plans are moving forward just fine.

After reports surfaced that there were snags in the plan for the conferences to dissolve and form one conference, representatives from both sides reiterated that the schools are still working together to form a union in some form, and in the past month have entered into formal agreements stating their desire to work on a new association.

“What we want is a unified association,” said Tulane president Dr. Scott Cowen, the chairman of Conference USA’s board of directors. “We’re exploring all possibilities.”

Both sides stressed all institutions are still on board with the association. Through a conference spokesman, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said any suggestions the schools aren’t working together are “simply wrong.”

There have been five subgroups, comprised from the 16 schools that announced last month their plans to form a new conference, working on the details of the new arrangement. The issues include branding and marketing, finding new members for expansion, television contracts, management structure and legal issues.

Although there is a chance that the schools won’t end up in some kind of alliance, merger or new league, it seems very likely there will be some form of an agreement. Cowen said there have been “no show-stopper issues” in any of his talks with UNLV president Neal Smatresk, the chairman of the MW’s board.

“We’re making good progress on all fronts,” Cowen said. “The cooperation between the schools and both conferences is excellent.”

The question is what form the association will take.

Dissolving the Mountain West and Conference USA and forming a new league was considered because it would allow the new league to negotiate its own television contract. Reports on Monday said that option wasn’t being considered anymore because of a few issues – including that exit fees to departing teams couldn’t be upheld, and NCAA Tournament revenue would go to the school that earned it instead of being split among conference members – although Cowen said there were no new issues that the institutions weren’t aware of when they decided to form a new conference.

Cowen declined to address the issues about exit fees and tournament revenue specifically, but said no options have been dismissed, including dissolving the conferences and forming a new league.

“We haven’t taken any options off the table,” Cowen said.

Merging the conferences or having them operate separately as divisions are the most likely options, it appears.

“At the end of the day, we might have twenty four institutions in separate divisions which each division having met the requirements of a conference,” Thompson said through a spokesman. “This is uncharted territory and many ways to structure the arrangement, and each approach is being considered to maximize the potential.”

Cowen said dissolving and reforming, a merger, and an alliance as separate divisions are all still being considered, along with other options he didn’t specify. He said the schools wanted to have finalized plans before July “at the latest.”

“We are on the path and we are working together,” Cowen said.

Contact Frank Schwab: 476-4891

Twitter @GazetteAirForce

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