Why MTSU athletics director Chris Massaro would be 'surprised' if C-USA doesn't rebuild

Cecil Joyce
Murfreesboro Daily News Journal

Middle Tennessee State isn't panicking after Conference USA lost seven of its 14 member schools to conference realignment, with two more contemplating leaving.

"We just need to take a step back," MTSU athletics director Chris Massaro told The Daily News Journal. "This stuff won't actually take effect until fall of 2023. That's the important thing, and it's getting lost in some of the writings. I think what's important is that we've got time to come to a conclusion on that so we can better position ourselves.

"The national (college) landscape is shifting. It will continue to shift. This wave isn't over yet, and it's not going to be the last wave."

It was announced Thursday that Alabama-Birmingham, Texas-San Antonio, Rice, North Texas, Charlotte and Florida Atlantic were leaving C-USA to join the American Athletic Conference.

Those six will replace three AAC schools that left to join the Big 12 in a trickle-down effect from Oklahoma and Texas joining the SEC.

Southern Miss is expected Tuesday to finalize a deal to leave C-USA and join the Sun Belt Conference. Marshall and Old Dominion are also reportedly on the brink of joining the league.

That would leave MTSU, Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, Florida International and Texas-El Paso as the five remaining conference schools.

MTSU athletics director Chris Massaro stands in front of photos of past teams that won Conference USA championships.

FOOTBALL:Chase Cunningham throws four touchdowns as MTSU football whips UConn

HONORING COACH PETERSON:MTSU to hold celebration of life for former baseball coach Steve Peterson on Oct. 29

What does that mean for the future of MTSU athletics?

There's little Massaro can say publicly, including what MTSU's next move might be and whether the school has been in talks with any other conferences.

What he did say gives the impression the Blue Raiders are sticking with C-USA through the transition and working to help build perhaps a smaller league around its current members.

"I think if you start going with leaner (size) and start looking at the finances of it, and start pouring those finances into the athletic departments, you're going to get better," Massaro said. "The CFP (College Football Playoff) money, instead of splitting 14 ways, you split with whatever we end up with....eight or nine or 10 ways. Those are some significant dollars.

"There's a real argument to be made for being lean. If you get the right combination and the right success and can improve yourself in the CFP, then it's better."

Massaro said university presidents are the ones working with C-USA commissioner Judy MacLeod during the realignment.

"Realignment and conference membership clearly is with the presidents," Massaro said. "I know (MTSU President Sidney McPhee) has had a lot of contact with the presidents. We (athletic directors) have had a lot of contact. They're making their decisions and we need to figure out what's best for MTSU.

"The presidents are the CEOs of this. We serve as advisors, practitioners, and give information to the presidents."

McPhee issued a statement to the DNJ, saying, "I confer daily with our Athletics administrators, as well as other colleagues and our partners in C-USA, on the national conference realignment. While there are many factors, seen and unseen, in play, I remain enthusiastic about the future of Blue Raider Athletics and confident about our prospects as these discussions continue."

MTSU is familiar with moving conferences. Under Massaro, the school left the Sun Belt Conference and joined C-USA prior to the 2013 school year. Before that, the Blue Raiders moved up from Division I-AA to what is now FBS when it left the Ohio Valley Conference for the Sun Belt in 2000.

Will there be another move in MTSU's future? 

"The thing I want to stress to our fans is this thing isn’t over," said Massaro, of realignment sweeping the college landscape. "Middle Tennessee is in a strong position. We’ve had a strong athletic department.

"Western Kentucky feels same way we do. Those are good partnerships moving forward. Also, this isn’t the last realignment. Everybody you talk to says there’s still more coming. This thing is not over right now either."

Massaro said he would be "surprised" if there wasn't a Conference USA in 2023.

"I'd be surprised if there's not a movement that it would be a strong entity," said Massaro, who added that there's a desire with MTSU and Western Kentucky to remain together. "There's a commitment from presidents to keep this together and be strategic about who we add and with some growth potential. We want to be lean and be strong. In (2023-24) it's going to look different, in terms of who our partners are.

"I don't think the Group of 5 will become the Group of 4."

Reach Cecil Joyce at cjoyce@dnj.com or 615-278-5168 and on Twitter @Cecil_Joyce.