Pratt: Toppers embracing opportunity as part of Conference USA

WKU President Dr. Gary Ransdell, Conference-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky, and WKU Athletic Director Todd Stewart announce on Monday Western Kentucky’s move to C-USA in 2014.

Elliott Pratt

When I joined the College Heights Herald two years ago, my first assignment was to attend a press conference welcoming Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson to WKU’s campus.

His enthusiasm for the university in his first trip to Bowling Green at that time soared through the roof. He was in awe of the campus’ facilities and praised the administration’s persistence for success.

In an era of college athletics where conference realignment is hardly news any more, Benson believed at that time the Sun Belt Conference was one of the few to come out with a positive move.

“I think the Sun Belt came out of this on the winning side and that member institutions have come out on the winning side. Here at Western Kentucky, they are really poised and primed to take advantage of the changes that have occurred around us,” Benson said in 2012.

Well, Mr. Commissioner, you may be correct, but now you’re going to have to do it without WKU.

Benson was correct when he said WKU is “poised and primed” to embrace changes for good. That’s why the Toppers are the newest members of Conference USA as of today.

The university is thankful for 32 years of a healthy relationship with the Sun Belt after accumulating more than 80 conference championships in that time.

WKU capped off its time with the league by winning the Sun Belt’s All-Sports Championship award, the Bubas Cup. The Toppers also won five conference titles in their final year in the league.

The Sun Belt offered opportunity and WKU ran away with it. Now the time has come for a new endeavor that comes at the most opportune time.

When you try to think of a sport that isn’t gaining momentum with performance on the Hill, it’s hard to single out one. Tennis is the only sport that hasn’t won a conference championship in the past few years, so even the non-revenue sports are primed for potential success in a new conference.

So imagine the excitement from those involved with the larger sports: football and basketball.

No longer will the football program have to get down and pray for a bowl game sporting an 8-4 or 7-5 regular season record. Heck, they can probably rest easy with a 6-6 record and still get a bid.

Through 2019, Conference USA is guaranteed five bowl bids. The league has television contracts with FOX and CBS College Sports through 2016. Each school in the conference receives $1.17 million per year from the deal and the Toppers will appear in five nationally televised games this fall.

For basketball, Conference USA provides a much better chance of receiving an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament than the Sun Belt Conference, which would only send its league champion.

Benson praised WKU for taking advantage of changes, and as the sun sets on what has been a rich history with a league of opportunity, a new light named Conference USA is bright on the Hill and the Toppers are going to make hay while it shines.