Monday, July 15, 2013

FIU Joins Conference USA

FIU is unbuckling its ties with the Sun Belt Conference and joining forces with Conference USA in 2013. The decision comes with hopes of new opportunities, greater exposure and larger revenues. The Panthers become part of a six-school expansion for the conference, including FAU, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Charlotte and UT-San Antonio. That makes the conference's school map look like this.

This was a no-brainer for the university as its young athletics program continues to grow. As Pete Garcia, Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment, simply put it, "For us, there really wasn’t any downside to the move." And rightfully so the school can only gain from joining the C-USA; gain money, gain media coverage and gain reputation.

FIU Football

Colts Draftee T.Y. Hilton
With football being FIU's largest sport, they now have a chance to build on their recent success and open doors to more lucrative bowl opportunities. The school earned its first ever bowl berth in 2010 to the Little Ceasar's Pizza Bowl, where it defeated Toledo. FIU followed up by returning to another bowl the following season at the Beef O'Brady's Bowl.

While Mario Cristobal's departure in 2012 shook things up, the program is pushing forward with Ron Turner at the helm. Turner should experience better recruitment opportunities as a result of the C-USA realignment - more exposure lures more talent.

Add recent NFL draftees T.Y. Hilton and Jonathan Cyprien as recruitment selling points and you can bet that FIU will be able to build a stronger roster.

FIU Basketball

Coach Anthony Evans
As for the men's basketball team, they were just one win away from claiming an NCAA Tournament spot last season. Unfortunately, they lost in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Finals to WKU (63-65).

New head coach Anthony Evans looks to prove his worth and improve upon his coaching success at Norfolk State University. Evans took Norfolk to two consecutive post-season appearances, most notably orchestrating a huge NCAA Tourney upset versus the #2 seeded Missouri Tigers in 2012.

The head coaching position has been a revolving door for FIU's basketball program, hiring its third new coach in three seasons. The program hopes to establish longevity under Evans with its new conference allegiance. That should also expand its recruiting efforts and draw more attention to potential talent.

FIU Baseball

Since becoming the 2010 Sun Belt Conference Champs, FIU's baseball squad has experienced a couple of consecutively average seasons. With another conference title in sight, the team must now step up to match the stronger competition level in the C-USA.

Baseball coach "Turtle" Thomas believes that move is a huge benefit for the team and will bring better days to the program. Thomas cited that C-USA featured four teams in the NCAA Regionals just last season, making it "a pretty darn good" conference in his opinion.

Final Word

In essence, all of FIU's athletic teams should experience more positives than negatives from this move. The conference realignment trend across all the NCAA may seem troubling but it's an unavoidable reality in today's competitive environment. More schools are competing to make more money, even if it means breaking long-standing relationships with their current conferences.

FIU still has plenty to prove before it can be included in the conversation with the Gators, Seminoles and Canes. But they clearly are taking the right steps toward entering that discussion.

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