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May 10, 2013

CUSA's Banowsky speaks on where the conference is

RUSTON -- Thursday while Louisiana Tech was hosting the 2013 Western Athletic Conference softball tournament before it heads to its new conference home of Conference USA, its new conference commissioner was on hand and talked to the media for approximately 20 minutes.

"I told your outgoing president Dan Reneau, who I've gotten to know over the years, I promised him I would come over and spend some time with him before his final day on the job which is rapidly approaching," Banowsky said. "So I was delighted to be able to carve out a day and get over here and spend time with Dan."

Frenetic energy

Recently, college athletics has seen unprecedented movement among its conferences. Schools leaving conferences to join others driven mostly by geography and better opportunities financially.

"I think things are moving into a little bit more stable window. We had a lot of frenetic energy over the last 18 months or two years which drove movement. Sometimes it made since and sometimes it left people scratching their head. I can tell you that, with what the ACC did this past few weeks in terms of shoring up its membership and getting firm commitments from their members to stay in the league, I think that's going to slow down change for a while. I'm not saying things will always be the same, if anything I'm suggesting the opposite we'll have more change it's the nature of what we do, but hopefully it will happen over a longer time horizon and be less volatile."

CUSA's approach to additions

Conference USA has been among those who were poached when the American Athletic Conference invited Memphis, Tulane, Houston, East Carolina, Central Florida, SMU, and Tulsa forcing the conference to regroup and make additions.

"Our approach -- and Louisiana Tech was a little bit of an exception to the rule -- was to identify large universities in large markets that have growth as pat of their DNA. We've done that adding markets like Charlotte, Miami and South Flordia; we've retained markets like Dallas and Houston and we've added San Antonio. So we're putting flags in the ground around the southwest and the southeast United States in a significant way. The brand has a lot of value and equity across the country."

Banowsky acknowledges the conference is in a state of transition but feels good about where the conference is headed.

"It's in a state of transition but it's a really good transition and we're excited about it. We knew we had some great universities joining the league but we really didn't know how great they were until we did more and spent more time on campus and I put Tech on the very top of that list. The things that are going on here are really tremendous. Universities are products of great leaders and Dan Reneau has been here since the beginning of time."

CUSA 16-team model

There had been rumors of Conference USA looking to go to 16 teams from its current number of 14. Some of the rumored additions have been Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State, James Madison and Missouri State.

"People who know me know I am comfortable with large models of conference. I think there are some efficiencies that grow from a two division model of eight in each division that are beneficial but, I also know that we want to manage the growth in a way that continues to create stability as opposed to volatility. I am just not sure yet whether we will move to a platform of 16 members but I know I have been asked to model 16 so that's what I plan on doing."

New look basketball conference

With the additions to CUSA, it is possible the conference improved its basketball product overall even after losing perennial power Memphis.

"I'd like to say it was part of the grand design, but we didn't know how good coach [Tech men's basketball coach Michael White] was going to be this year when we brought him in. I was telling Dan earlier, you made me look so smart because I brought Louisiana Tech in and they had great seasons in football and men's basketball. But we do have a lot of schools coming in with great tradition. Obviously, I've worked with Charlotte before; Old Dominion has great tradition; Middle Tennessee had a great basketball season; Western Kentucky has great tradition in basketball; Louisiana Tech has great tradition in basketball; the net with schools going out and schools coming in is a positive in the sport. We lost one big bell-cow in Memphis -- Memphis was obviously a great national brand -- but we're bringing in a lot of great programs that are on the rise."

The women's basketball side of things will even reignite an old rivalry for Tech with Old Dominion as the two schools squared off in the early days of women's college basketball as two of the national powers. The Lady Techsters and Lady Monarchs combine for six national championships in women's basketball. The Lady Techsters also have a lot of history with Western Kentucky as the two teams have played 40 times.

"The women's basketball I didn't fully appreciate but some of the rivalries in women's basketball - the dots that connect in this new configuration - are amazing with Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion and some of these programs."

Tech's transition

Louisiana Tech will be making its transition in football to CUSA with a new coach who has experience in the conference in Skip Holtz who spent time as head coach of East Carolina from 2005-2009.

"You have transition at your football coach, you lost a great one in Sonny Dykes but you've picked up a great one. I've had a chance to know Skip for quite some time. When I saw the hire I was excited because he is truly one of the neat people I have had a chance to work with over the years."

Tech has been upgrading its facilities of late with a renovation of the baseball locker room at J.C. Love Field at Pat Patterson Park and improvements at the Lady Techster softball complex but the improvements most are anticipating is the South end zone field house addition in Joe Aillet Stadium.

"Things are great here. The future is obviously bright. The facilities are coming around in a terrific way. I saw the plans again for the football end zone facility which is amazing and it is going to mean a lot to the fans and the student-athletes and be a source of great pride."

Banowsky closed his opening thoughts on the current state of Tech and the conference with an interesting anecdote about Tech people in Dallas.

"I live in Dallas and you've got a lot of Louisiana Tech people in Dallas. They found me, they've sought me out and so I've really had a chance to get a feel for the depth of passion for the university which is great."

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