In the 2013-14 academic year, all of North Texas' athletic programs move to Conference USA. While the league presents benefits in terms of television exposure and national recognition in football and basketball, all of North Texas' programs benefit from the move.
The competition in C-USA is strong in all sports, not just football and basketball. Outside of those sports, C-USA has sent multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament in soccer, softball, men's golf, women's golf, and tennis, in addition to men's basketball in the most recent postseasons for the respective sports.
"The NCAA really considers C-USA one of the better conferences in the country. There is always going to be the Pac-12, the ACC and the Big 12 and so forth, but Conference USA is up there," said Head Soccer Coach John Hedlund. "A lot of those teams that made the NCAA Tournament beat some of the bigger schools to get there."
In addition, being successful in Conference USA can help a program gain recognition on not just a regional, but a national level.
"In a tough conference, winning the conference championship can push us higher in the rankings, and get us up into the Top 25," said Head Men's Golf Coach Brad Stracke. "It helps in recruiting. The players look at the rankings, and if you're a top 25 program, they want to come to your program. Every spot you move up really helps in the recruiting board."
Conference USA sent five teams to the softball postseason in 2011, and all five of the schools won their first game in the tournament. Only the Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC sent more teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2011.
Despite departures of several strong programs, Conference USA continues to be strong in many sports. Six of the 13 C-USA volleyball schools in the current alignment have made the NCAA Tournament since 2008. Eight of the 13 soccer-playing schools have visited the Big Dance since 2005. Nine of the 11 schools that sponsor men's golf sent a representative to the NCAA Tournament in 2011 alone.
"Obviously the level of competition will increase significantly," said Head Volleyball Coach Ken Murczek. "There are eight schools that won 17 or more matches last season, five were in the top 100 of the RPI, which hopefully lends itself to more schools getting at-large bids for the NCAA Tournament."
Three of the newly-aligned C-USA schools play in the NCAA Tournament this week, which excites the tennis program.
"When you have competition, you tend to rise up to the challenge," said Head Tennis Coach Sujay Lama. "I think having several teams in the conference that are nationally ranked and have that conference-championship experience in their past that compete against each other can only make not only us better, but the rest of the conference as well."
Moving to Conference USA, brings the addition of several schools in close proximity to Denton, including Rice, UTSA, Louisiana Tech and Tulsa. Adding bus trips to the conference schedule allows student-athletes to leave later in the day when going to competitions, and allows squads to return immediately after the game, which cuts down on the amount of class missed.
"I always think about our student-athletes first, when I look at our schedule," said Head Volleyball Coach Ken Murczek. "To have opponents now that are within a short bus ride, I think that's incredibly helpful for the amount of days we have to miss for school."
In addition to cutting down on the amount of class time missed, having conference rivals in close proximity helps in recruiting, as playing in front of family and friends becomes alluring to student-athletes.
"One of our biggest sells is players having the opportunity to play games where their family and friends can watch them play," said Head Soccer Coach John Hedlund. "Now you have more teams, outside of our non-conference schedule, that their family and friends will see them play. It's not just 10 out of 20 games now. It's up to 14 or 15 games. That's a huge selling point for us."
Conference USA helps raise the prestige of the North Texas athletic program, which leads to better results in recruiting.
"The stronger conference brand recognition should help us get more looks by recruits," said Head Swimming Coach Joe Dykstra. "On the road, our conference meets will be in new states, which will inevitably spread our image for the betterment of our program."
Programs benefit from being associated with like-minded schools that are in C-USA.
"We'll be able to go after those higher status kids," said Head Track and Field Coach Carl Sheffield. "It's going to help tremendously in the long run to be competing against other schools that Texas kids are being recruited by. Until now, we've never been able to say we're on the same level as programs like Tulsa and Rice."
The department-wide association helps all programs lift each other up, as the institution gains more recognition and brings more exciting sporting events to Denton.
"The move will give us more credibility when it comes to recruiting," said Head Women's Golf Coach Jeff Mitchell. "Prospective student-athletes always want to compete in a strong conference. They'll want to go to other North Texas sporting events that pit strong teams against us. This move gives us a more complete package in the recruiting wars."
Fans can visit Mean Green Club Coaches' Caravan, making stops between May 8th and May 16th to hear several Mean Green coaches talk about their program, the move to Conference USA, and socialize with guests.
For more information on how each program is affected by the switch, please visit its individual sport page on meangreensports.com.