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Owls take big step

Owl Analysis: FAU makes right move by quickly accepting invite from Conference USA and leaving the Sun Belt

Originally published on 11/29/2012

by Marcus Nelson

Former FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger hasn't exactly been a vocal supporter over Conference USA through the years.

In1995 he walked away from Louisville in part because he thought joining Conference USA would be detrimental to the Cardinals.

As recently as a few weeks ago, Schnellenberger's tune hadn't changed. He thought FAU belonged in the Big East where the Owls could flourish chasing an automatic BCS bid.

Now, the Big East is struggling without its BCS berth and the gap between it and Conference USA is nowhere near what it was before this football season began.

So when FAU announced it had an accepted an invitation to join Conference USA, Schnellenberger was all smiles – and his opinion of the league he once derided has changed.

“Absolutely it's changed,” Schnellenberger said shortly after the big announcement. “The Big East has lost its ability to maintain a team in the national championship. Plus, by us being down in the South Florida market, we'll have the ability to be the bell cow of the conference. Now that we have a stadium and not a high school stadium, we can be not just a member of Conference USA, but a superlative member with a lot of clout. That's why I'm so happy with the move. There is no embarrassment for not getting in the Big East.”

No one in attendance at Thursday's announcement that FAU was leaving the Sun Belt won the lottery on Wednesday night, but plenty people besides Schnellenberger looked like they had – especially FAU President Mary Jane Saunders and Athletic Director Pat Chun.

Chun and Saunders quickly got a deal done when Conference USA officials invited the Owls on Wednesday morning.

It didn't take too long for the Owls to accept because there really wasn't too much to think about.

Chun was the first to admit he hadn't crunched all the numbers, but it's pretty simple math here – expenses will climb but revenues will climb more.

And so will attendance. And so will donations. And so will recruiting.

FAU would have been content to stay in the Sun Belt even after the departures of FIU and North Texas, but once the conference shuffling started up again, the Sun Belt was ripe for the picking.

Conference USA is hardly perfect. It couldn't get a representative on a plane to be on hand for Thursday's announcement – or a hat, shirt or letterhead? No matter. C-USA will provide some opponents with higher name recognition than the Sun Belt along with more bowl tie-ins and TV revenue.

The Sun Belt provided FAU with some good years when the Owls were a start-up football program, but it's reassuring that someone, somewhere believes in FAU's athletic program enough to give them a promotion.

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