On the surface, it might not seem like North Texas and Tulsa have a lot in common.
UNT is one of the largest public schools in the region with more than 35,000 students, while Tulsa is a private school with an enrollment of just more than 4,000 — a figure that makes it one of the smallest schools with a Football Bowl Subdivision program in the country.
C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky, Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship and several of the league’s other head coaches said Wednesday during the conference’s annual media day in Irving that geography and core values will make UNT a good fit in the new-look league.
UNT will play its final season in the Sun Belt Conference this season before moving to C-USA in 2013.
“When we looked at expansion, the presidents shared with us that they wanted to find like-minded institutions,” Blankenship said. “What we look for in recruiting are players that fit Tulsa. When you talk about conferences, you want programs that fit.
“North Texas seemed like a no-brainer to us.”
UNT will be one of four Texas schools in C-USA when its new lineup takes effect next year. Rice, UTEP and newcomer Texas-San Antonio will also be in the league.
UNT’s regional rival Tulsa will remain in the conference, along with Tulane. Louisiana Tech, another one of UNT’s traditional rivals, is also joining the league.
UNT, which is an outlier in the Sun Belt as the only Texas school in the conference, will be placed within a tightly knit division of C-USA.
“Our strategic plan was to identify universities in metropolitan areas with a large enrollment that had made a commitment to athletics and football in particular,” Banowsky said. “[UNT] obviously fit that profile.”
UNT opened Apogee Stadium, its $79 million football venue, last season and has dramatically upgraded its facilities over the last decade.
C-USA coaches and officials say UNT will be an asset to the league for several reasons, not the least of which are allowing the conference to maintain a presence in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and bolstering its foothold in Texas. C-USA is losing Houston and SMU to the Big East.
The league’s offices are in Irving and schools like Tulsa and Rice recruit the Dallas-Fort Worth area heavily.
“I’m excited about North Texas coming in,” Rice coach David Bailiff said. “It’s always good to have a footprint in the D-FW area.”
Tulsa has a dozen players from the area on its roster heading into the 2012 season. Three players who started for Tulsa a year ago, when the Golden Hurricane finished 8-5 and lost to BYU in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, were from Dallas-Fort Worth.
Rice has five players from the North Texas region listed as starters heading into the 2012 season.
“You love to have someone in that region,” Blankenship said. “We would be lying if we said we didn’t want a presence in Texas as a conference, and the metroplex has been a target for us in recruiting. It’s important to reach those households and TVs.”
UNT will give schools in the league that connection to the area after SMU leaves the conference.
C-USA coaches and administrators value that geographic presence almost as much as the connection they believe the schools in the conference will share despite their differences.
“We are a fairly diverse group of universities, which is not unusual,” Banowsky said. “We have public and private universities, large universities and small universities, but at the core there is a commitment to excellence, a commitment to integrity and to operate athletics the right way in a manner consistent with the values the university. That is the common thread with all our universities.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com .