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Marshall is stuck in a sinking ship

April 11, 2019

Is Conference USA teetering on the edge of an abyss?

It certainly seems like it.

As though it weren’t bad enough that league leaders actually believe it’s a good idea to play the C-USA basketball tournaments in an NFL team’s indoor practice facility, even worse news occurred recently.

The American Athletic Conference signed a 12-year, $1 billion media rights deal with ESPN beginning in 2020-21. That means each of AAC’s 12 members will realize $6.94 million per year in television revenue.

Considering the American already was head and shoulders above the Mountain West, Mid-American, C-USA and the Sun Belt in the Group of Five pecking order, this is a staggering shot across the bow.

That’s particularly true as it relates to C-USA.

The problem is C-USA became the first of the 10 major conferences to renegotiate its television contract in 2016-17.

The hammer has been falling ever since.

Now it has reached the point that C-USA schools are realizing approximately only $200,000 in media rights revenue per fiscal year, according to knowledgeable sources.

Just $200,000.

Compare that to the AAC’s new contract that will yield each member school $6.94 million.

On second thought, don’t bother with comparisons. The AAC and C-USA are now so far apart in media rights revenue there is no comparison.

The problem?

C-USA has been reduced to streaming almost all its games on such networks as ESPN+, Stadium and Stadium on Facebook.

There’s obviously not much money in that.

As a result, C-USA keeps plummeting down the pecking order. Of the 10 major conferences, the Sun Belt and C-USA are together at the bottom of the barrel.

And, yes, that sticks in the craw of Marshall fans.

Why wouldn’t it?

The Thundering Herd faithful look across the Ohio River to nearby Ohio University and see the Bobcats reaping about $670,000 per year in the MAC’s media rights contract with ESPN.

That’s three times more than what Marshall is receiving.

What’s worse, the MAC is the league Marshall departed to join C-USA in 2005.

That’s why hardly a day goes by that some disgruntled Marshall fan doesn’t tell me, “Leaving the MAC and joining Conference USA is the biggest mistake Marshall ever made.”

The problem is they are wrong.

At the time, Marshall was making the exact right move by leaving the MAC for C-USA. In those days, then-coach Bobby Pruett had to solicit donations from boosters to keep Marshall from losing money on its usual trip to the Motor City Bowl.

The MAC didn’t pay any bowl expenses or much of anything else. The league was really struggling in those days. But C-USA? It was gangbusters. The difference between those two leagues was night and day.

Until, that is, conference realignment upset everything. The Big East became a basketball-only conference, kept the name and the new American Athletic Conference was created.

It’s first move? Raid C-USA. The AAC pillaged C-USA for UCF, East Carolina, Memphis, Tulane, Tulsa, Houston and SMU, and C-USA has been in decline ever since.

There seems to be very little light at the end of the tunnel. Unless, of course, it’s a train.

Meanwhile, MU fans wistfully say, “I wish we could get back in the MAC.”

It’s not going to happen.

Sadly, Marshall is stuck right where it is.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.