IRVING, Texas — The Charlotte 49ers and Conference USA: together again.
If that marriage has a familiar ring, its because the 49ers spent 10 seasons in C-USA before departing for the Atlantic 10 in 2006.
But the C-USA the 49ers return to this year bears little resemblance to the league they were essentially forced out of eight years ago because the school at the time didnt have a football program.
Thanks to conference reshuffling that has marked college sports in recent years, gone from C-USA are teams like Charlottes old basketball rivals Cincinnati, Marquette and Memphis. In their places are Middle Tennessee, Texas-San Antonio and North Texas.
This is a fresh chapter for us, said C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky at the leagues basketball media day Tuesday on the outskirts of Dallas. Weve brought in programs that have a lot of history and tradition, and were reacquainting ourselves with programs like Charlotte, whichhas a great history in our league.
The comings and goings in C-USA are borderline dizzying.
Charlotte is one of eight schools joining C-USA this season, increasing the leagues membership to 16. Also coming in are Old Dominion, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Texas-San Antonio and Louisiana Tech The league also has associate members in some sports, including South Carolina, New Mexico and Kentucky in mens soccer.
Charlotte will join the league in football in 2015. Old Dominion, which started football in 2009, joins the league in that sport in 2014.
The exit door is swinging, as well, with Memphis having left after the 2012-13 season and Tulane, Tulsa and East Carolina departing in 2014.
With Western Kentucky coming in next season, the leagues membership will be trimmed to 14 schools.
Its going to take a lot of getting used to, said Charlotte mens basketball coach Alan Major. There are guys who have been in the league who are in the same boat as new coaches coming in. There are a bunch of new faces theyre not used to seeing. So theres a lot of anticipation. Its a lot of guys sizing up something and wondering, What are we getting into?
Conference USA was formed in 1995 and soon became one of the countrys top mens basketball conferences. Charlotte held its own with Cincinnati, Memphis and Marquette, winning two league tournament titles, one regular-season championship and playing in the NCAA tournament seven times.
But when the league began to emphasize football in 2006, the 49ers got the boot. They moved to the Atlantic 10 until deciding to start a football program this season, with the intention of some day moving from the NCAAs Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision. Attracted by Charlottes market size and a familiarity with the school, C-USA came calling again.
Basketball is what got us out of the gate, said Banowsky, explaining how C-USA got to this point. Then we had the ongoing challenge of reconciling our football schools with that. When we decided to become an all-sports league, it opened us up to where we are today. Its going to be fascinating how it works out.
Major says that while C-USA schools are far-flung (from Texas to Virginia), there are still at least a few (East Carolina, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, Alabama-Birmingham) close enough to Charlotte that fans can travel to them for road games.
In the Atlantic 10 dominated by schools mostly in the northeast and midwest Richmond was the only school within reasonable driving distance from Charlotte.
Fans can now be more part of the road experience, said Major. Being in the Atlantic 10 didnt allow our fans to connect outside of Halton Arena. As a result, they didnt have an opponent they loved to hate. Thats when rivalries take on true grit.
There also could be a reawakening of a rivalry with Old Dominion, which was a member of the Sun Belt Conference with Charlotte in the 1980s and 90s.
Having a rivalry with Charlotte makes sense because of the proximity, said first-year Old Dominion mens basketball coach Jeff Jones. And Charlotte fans are already more familiar with ODU and our program and vice versa.
Both schools have one thing in common: their move to C-USA was driven by their fledgling football programs.
It is a big step for football, moving from FCS to FBS, said Jones, a former player and coach at Virginia. But when you look at the excitement created by football, it didnt take me long to understand that its really a positive for our community.
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14