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The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

On Tougher Turf

Conference USA will offer a new set of rivals, traditions and possibilities

It was Roman dramatist, philosopher and politician Seneca who said that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Seneca walked the Earth centuries before college football became virtually a secular religion in the United States, and long before the dollar’s allure changed the landscape of conference alignments across the country. But if he were alive today, Seneca undoubtedly would give UTSA a wink and a nod for being prepared when Conference USA came knocking at the door of the Roadrunners’ fledgling football program.

If anything, the Roadrunners, President Ricardo Romo and Athletic Director Lynn Hickey have demonstrated that there’s nothing as fortuitous as being in the right place at the right time. And standing ready to seize the moment.

"We have people like Dr. Romo and people like Lynn, and the community has been so proactive in putting our brand out," said UTSA football coach Larry Coker. "It’s like the Conference USA people said, ‘Wow, yeah, boy, San Antonio is a great city and they’ve got this [Alamodome] and good attendance, and people backing the program.’"

"The stakes have gone up...It’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be a climb. It’s going to be a tough transition. There will be no free lunches.

—Football coach Larry Coker

After finishing 4–6 in its inaugural season last year as an independent in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA, UTSA gained membership to a pair of Football Bowl Subdivision conferences in an 1-month span.

UTSA is on track to become a full-fledged FBS member in 2014. No other NCAA athletic program has gone from having no football team to full membership in the FBS, formerly Division I-A, in just four years.

The Roadrunners accepted an invitation to join the Western Athletic Conference in November 2010. The official move into the conference was July 1. By then, the Roadrunners had already begun talks with C-USA and accepted an invitation to join that conference. The Roadrunners will join C-USA at the start of the 2013–14 school year and pay a $2 million membership fee.

"The stakes have gone up," Coker said, referring to the FBS competition the Roadrunners will face. "It’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be a climb. It’s going to be a tough transition. There will be no free lunches. We’ll be the underdog in a lot of those games.

"It’s going to be a huge challenge for us, but there’s a hunger for football here. I think we have an affordable ticket to games, and the atmosphere at the Alamodome, the tailgating and everything else, has made UTSA football an event."

Conference officials could not help but be impressed by the fact that UTSA set NCAA single-game (56,743) and season average (35,521) attendance records for a first-year program. The Roadrunners play their home games at the 65,000-seat Alamodome.

Cross country and volleyball are among the 17 sports programs at UTSA that will join C-USA. Photos by Jeff Huehn

"The attendance had to catch everybody’s attention," Coker said. UTSA would have ranked first in the WAC and second in C-USA in average home attendance.

UTSA is among four football-playing schools moving to Conference USA in the 2013 season, offsetting the departures of Houston, SMU, Central Florida and Memphis, which are bound for the Big East.

Hickey said the move to the new conference will affect all of UTSA’s 17 sports.

"This is not just about football," she said. "We will see increased visibility regionally and nationally, which will help our recruiting, our fundraising and our branding."

Romo said the Big East’s raid into C-USA essentially altered the direction of the entire UTSA athletics program.

"That changed the dynamics quickly," Romo said. "Basically, where they wouldn’t have paid any attention to us for two or three more years, all of a sudden they said, ‘We want you guys.’ And they came after us. We always thought Conference USA would be a great conference for us. We always felt they had the kind of teams we would want to play. It’s perfect for us because of the geography."

The three other schools joining UTSA in C-USA football are North Texas, Florida International and Louisiana Tech, making it a 14-team conference. North Texas and Florida International are departing the Sun Belt Conference, and Louisiana Tech is leaving the WAC.

UNC Charlotte and Old Dominion (Virginia) also will join C-USA, but their football teams won’t compete in league play until 2015.

Current C-USA schools are Alabama–Birmingham, East Carolina, Marshall, Rice, Southern Mississippi, UT El Paso, Tulane and Tulsa.

While the ante will go up for UTSA, the Roadrunners stand to make more money in C-USA than by staying in the WAC because of TV revenue and other payouts.

"[C-USA] has always had a reputation of keeping athletics and academics prioritized correctly," Hickey said. "Conference USA is a nationally recognized brand, so the opportunities we’re going to have from ESPN, FOX and CBS Sports are going to be a new way of life for us.

"When you look at the map, the group of schools that we’re going to be able to compete with will allow our fans to be a part of this. We’re going to have new rivalries, but we’re also going to be able to keep some of our old rivalries. It’s a win-win because it’s the best of everything."

C-USA will be divided into two divisions, with the winner of each meeting in a conference championship game. League officials haven’t announced the division alignments yet, but UTSA is expected to be in the same division with North Texas, Rice, UT El Paso, Tulsa, Louisiana Tech and Tulane.

UTSA safety Mauricio Sanchez, a sophomore who graduated from Warren High School in San Antonio, said the Roadrunners’ quick rise to the FBS ranks has given them a sense of urgency.

"It’s a big challenge, but that’s what champions are made of," Sanchez said. "You have to have a goal in place and do whatever it takes to reach it. We’ve been working hard because we know we’ll be going against tougher competition."

While Coker expressed surprise that a conference invitation came so quickly, he said UTSA’s preparation and the lure of San Antonio and the Alamodome accelerated the Roadrunners’ ascent to the FBS.

"Five years is kind of the magic figure," he said. "I figured that if we proved ourselves and you’re competitive and you’re recruiting better, I thought we would be very attractive in five years."

Instead the invitation came within two years.

C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky left no doubt about what he thought of UTSA and San Antonio when he welcomed the Roadrunners into the conference.

"We’re so impressed by the work that’s being done at UTSA and the community of San Antonio," Banowsky said. "I have been in Texas for a long time, so I know how dynamic and vibrant that community is and how much it has to offer.

"As we introduced the possibility to the other members in the conference, people were really taken aback by the potential and wonderful opportunity that a relationship with not only the city of San Antonio but, more importantly, UTSA, is."

Banowsky said San Antonio would be a "wonderful venue" for the C-USA football championship game (Alamodome) or the league’s postseason basketball tournament (AT&T Center).

"We're so impressed by the work that's being done at UTSA and the community of San Antonio."

—C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky

Landing either event would be a boon for San Antonio, which has hosted three Big 12 football championship games. The city also has been the site of three NCAA men’s basketball Final Fours and two women’s Final Fours. While San Antonio has been mentioned as a site for C-USA championship events, no serious discussions have been held. Any negotiations would have to be put on hold for at least a year, since UTSA will compete in the WAC throughout the 2012–13 school term.

UTSA competed in the Southland Conference from 1991 until the end of the 2011–12 school year. While UTSA won’t start C-USA play until next year, Coker said the Roadrunners already are benefitting from being associated with a bigger conference.

"There’s no doubt that it’s raised our profile and it’s made a difference in our recruiting," Coker said.

Coker, who led Miami to the 2001 Bowl Championship Series national title, said he had never seen the landscape of college football change as drastically as it did during this offseason. That Texas A&M would leave the Big 12, and rival Texas, to defect to the Southeastern Conference was inconceivable just a few years ago. But that was before the dominoes started falling and conference realignments trumped decades of tradition.

"I could never imagine an A&M going to the SEC or a Missouri going to the SEC," Coker said. "Then you’ve got West Virginia coming to the Big 12. It’s really been unbelievable. It’s really left an opening for us."

And UTSA was ready to fill it.

Conference members 2013–14

UTSA competes in 17 men's and women's sports: Baseball, Basketball, Cross Country, Football, Golf, Soccer, Softball, Tennis, Track & Field and Volleyball.

The Returning Classmen

East Carolina University
Location: Greenville, N.C.
Enrollment: 27,816
Mascot: Pirates
Colors: Purple and gold

Marshall University
Location: Huntington, W. Va.
Enrollment: 13,814
Mascot: Thundering Herd
Colors: Green and white

Rice University
Location: Houston, Texas
Enrollment: 5,760
Mascot: Owls
Colors: Blue and gray

University of Southern Mississippi
Location: Hattiesburg, Miss.
Enrollment: 16,000
Mascot: Golden Eagles
Colors: Black and gold

Tulane University
Location: New Orleans, La.
Enrollment: 11,911
Mascot: Green Wave
Colors: Olive green and sky blue

University of Tulsa
Location: Tulsa, Okla.
Enrollment: 4,100
Mascot: Golden Hurricanes
Colors: Old gold, royal blue and crimson

University of Alabama at Birmingham
Location: Birmingham, Ala.
Enrollment: 17,543
Mascot: Blazers
Colors: Forest green and old gold

University of Texas at El Paso
Location: El Paso, Texas
Enrollment: 22,000
Mascot: Miners
Colors: Dark blue and orange with silver accent

The New Classmen

Each new member will join the league in all sports for 2013. The metro area population of the newcomers, including UTSA, is nearly 18 million.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Location: Charlotte, N.C.
Enrollment: 25,063
Sports Programs: 16
Mascot: 49ers
Colors: Green and white
Football will begin competition play in 2013, with a full conference schedule in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision.

Florida International University
Location: Miami, Fla.
Enrollment: 48,000
Sports Programs: 18
Mascot: Panthers
Colors: Blue and gold
It is one of the fastest-growing universities in the United States.

Louisiana Tech University
Location: Ruston, La.
Enrollment: 11,743
Sports Programs: 16
Mascot: Bulldogs
Colors: Blue and red
In 2011, the football team won the WAC Championship and participated in the Poinsettia Bowl. The women's basketball team has participated in 27 NCAA Tournaments, advancing to 13 Final Fours, playing in eight national championship games and winning three national titles.

The University of North Texas
Location: Denton, Texas
Enrollment: 35,694
Sports Programs: 16
Mascot: Mean Green Eagle
Colors: Green and white
The $78 million Apogee Stadium opened in 2011. UNT has approximately 336,000 living alumni, with 216,000 living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Old Dominion
Location: Norfolk, Va.
Enrollment: 24,466
Sports Programs: 12
Mascot: Big Blue
Colors: Slate blue, silver, Cerulean blue
Old Dominion is responsible for 32 team and individual national championships. Old Dominion accepted membership into C-USA effective July 1, 2013. With the exception of football, all of the university's teams compete at the Division I level.

The University of Texas at San Antonio
Enrollment: 30,474
Sports programs: 17
Mascot: Roadrunners
Colors: Orange and blue
In their first season of football in 2011, the Roadrunners averaged 35,521 attendees for their games at the Alamodome. UTSA is an NCAA Division I program in a market that reaches more than 880,000 television households and has more than 1.8 million people aged 12 or older living in the greater metropolitan region.



Now that the historic, century-old Thanksgiving weekend football game between Texas and A&M is history, UTSA students think the Roadrunners should be next to take the coveted spot. But which team should they play? Many favored Texas State as their choice for an in-state rival, but the Bobcats are not in C-USA, nor are they on UTSA's football schedule to date. Still...

"It would be really cool to have a rivalry with Texas State. They are located close by and it would be a great replacement" for the U.T.-A&M grudge match. "An I-35 rivalry sounds like it could be a strong one."

Victor Sanchez
business management major

"I have heard about the I-10 rivalry with Rice that sounds logical, and I think it would make for a good one. There are lots of students from the Houston area here that would pump it up. And because the distance is not great, lots of students would be able to travel to support the team."

Hiep Nguyen
mechanical engineering major

"It makes a lot of sense to have it be Texas State: we are a lot alike, both small schools, and so close by. Plus all the people from San Antonio who go [to Texas State] always run down and criticize UTSA, so that would really help feed the rivalry."

Alison Skinner
kinesiology major

"I think a rivalry with Texas State would give it a great regional outlook. I have a number of friends there, and it would be really cool to have Rowdy beat the Bobcats."

Nicholas Kondratick '10
graduate student, history


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