HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — As conference realignment in college athletics has quickly become the topic of conversation heading into another academic year, Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert says his institution is taking a ‘wait and see’ approach.
On Tuesday, one day after both schools notified the Big 12 Conference they would not renew their grant of media rights with the league upon its expiration in 2025, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas formally requested an invite to join the SEC that same year.
Those moves have sent shockwaves through the college landscape with additional movement imminent in the Power 5 football conferences of the Big 12, ACC, SEC, Big Ten, and Pac 12. Marshall, a member of Conference USA, is part of the Group of 5 in football along with schools in the Sun Belt, AAC, MAC, and Mountain West.
Gilbert told MetroNews on Tuesday at an unrelated event that most Group of 5 schools are taking the same approach as Marshall, watching what happens with the Power 5 schools.
“If there is more movement there, then there might be some individuals universities that would move up to the autonomous five. In which case, that would create an opportunity for discussions within the Group of 5 to reshuffle,” Gilbert said.
“It’s ultimately too early to start talking about that. If it’s just two teams and the Big 12 reestablishes themselves and does not dissolve or come down to a smaller number, I think things will stabilize. If more universities were to depart, I think we would see more movement and more unstable conditions in all the different conferences.”
It remains to be seen what happens with the remaining eight Big 12 schools, including West Virginia University. Some universities have publicly expressed displeasure of the move coming from Texas and Oklahoma, which many expect to happen sooner than 2025. The likely decision by most Big 12 schools would be to find other homes as Texas and Oklahoma were the anchors.
If the conference attempts to stay afloat, an idea would be to add a few premiere Group of 5 institutions from the AAC. Gilbert said if the dominoes begin to fall in the Group of 5, he would not rule out a complete reshuffle of everyone including Conference USA and Sun Belt.
“One idea is we could all get together and say let’s redivide the schools into more regional conferences, which would be a good thing,” Gilbert said.
Conference USA is far from a regional conference, with 14 schools spanning from El Paso, Texas to Norfolk, Virginia and into Florida, divided into two seven-team divisions in football. Marshall’s first football season in Conference USA was in 2005 but the conference has since seen realignments with numerous schools leaving in 2013 to join the then newly formed American Athletic Conference (AAC).
Conference USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod released a statement on Tuesday saying, “Conference USA continues to monitor the ever-changing landscape of collegiate athletics. Our Board of Directors met Monday morning and will remain engaged, discussing recent developments and evaluating opportunities to strengthen and best position our member institutions collectively.”
Statement from Conference USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod: pic.twitter.com/y0opyj0VQ0
— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) July 27, 2021
Gilbert told MetroNews that he has enjoyed Marshall’s time in Conference USA. Gilbert became the 37th president of Marshall in January 2016, after the last realignment.
“It’s a very large conference, spans from West Texas to West Virginia and beyond. It’s a challenge in terms of distance. I’ve gotten to know the presidents at the other institutions. It’s been an enjoyable association,” he said.
“And I get to travel to the away games in some far away places.”
But Gilbert is set to leave Marshall at the end of his current term in July of next year. At the end of June, veteran Athletic Director Mike Hamrick stepped down at Marshall and Jeff O’Malley began serving as interim athletic director.
Gilbert said even with the uncertainty up top in the administration in the next year, he is confident Marshall will land on its feet no matter what happens with conference realignment.
“I don’t think that will have any negative impact on Marshall. We are such a strong brand athletically,” Gilbert said. “We just won the national championship in soccer, we’ve always been strong in football, we have good basketball programs and other sports. So our athletic brand is so strong, I don’t think there would be any danger of anything negative happening to Marshall.
“I think there is an opportunity for positive things happening for Marshall as all of this reshuffles.”