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C-USA prepares for change

Not all of the nonautomatic qualifying conference commissioners are welcoming expansion with open arms, but Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky has no such qualms.

During Conference USA spring meetings this week, Banowsky said he’s encouraging institutions to seek out better opportunities.

"We have three principles that we share with our folks," Banowsky told media. "One is, it's OK to change conferences. Unlike other conferences, we are generally comfortable with that concept. ... We have no problem with having the conversation. We have it openly. We do, however, believe while you're on the team, you've got to support the team. And that's something that we talk about."

Banowsky’s candidness is surprising considering his conference covers prime poaching areas for the Big 12, Big East and ACC. There’s been speculation that if the Big 12 loses several member institutions it might seek former members of the Southwest Conference, which includ current C-USA members Rice, SMU and Houston. Tulsa also would fit into the Big 12’s plan should Oklahoma or Oklahoma State leave.

In the East, teams such as Central Florida and Memphis have spoken out about wanting to move to a bigger conference. C-USA members East Carolina, Marshall and Southern Miss also are in the thick of big conference territory.

Perhaps Banowsky is so calm because C-USA has gone through this before. In 2005, the Big East took five members, including football schools Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida. TCU also left for the Mountain West Conference that same year.

"We did probably have the most dramatic change of any conference in a short amount of time maybe in the history of all of college athletics," Banowsky said. "We learned a lot of lessons. I mean some of the lessons we learned are some of the things I talked about before.”

Conference USA’s meetings are being held during the same time as the Big Ten and everyone is keeping a close watch on Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and the goings on in Chicago.

While expansion likely won’t occur this week or even this month -- Delany continues to maintain the timetable will be 12 to 18 months -- every conference is bracing for the domino effect caused by the Big Ten’s decision to expand to 12 or 16 schools.

"We have to keep our eye on the ball," Banowsky said. "I mean we can't lose focus worrying about what may or may not happen. I mean, we'll be prepared for it. I think we'll be ready, but we don't want to lose focus on what we have to be prepared for today on our campuses and as a group.”