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Mountain West, Conference USA to form 22-team football league

By Ferd Lewis

LAST UPDATED: 2:07 p.m. HST, Oct 14, 2011

Mountain West Conference and Conference USA officials said today they have agreed to merge their football programs, which could put the University of Hawaii Warriors in a 22-team league stretching to the East Coast as early as 2012.

The Warriors, who are playing in their 33rd and final Western Athletic Conference season, are scheduled to join the MWC July 1, 2012. UH's other sports will be in the Big West.

But with the merger of the MWC and CUSA announced today, UH could find itself in a football-only league with teams including Orlando, Fla.-based Central Florida and Huntington, W.V.-based Marshall University.

Commissioners of the two conferences say they hope to begin play as one yet-to-be-named league possibly in 2012 but definitely by 2013. They said play would eventually be in regional-based divisions with a playoff structure. 

A MWC spokesman said UH would be expected to pay travel subsidies for visiting teams as per its membership agreement with the MWC. UH was to pay Pacific Time zone visitors $150,000 a trip in 2012 and $175,000 to Mountain Time Zone visitors.

The goal of the merger is to better position the group for a Bowl Championship Series automatic qualifying berth and raise TV rights fees, officials said.

"The 12 members of Conference USA and 10 football-playing members of the Mountain West will join forces for this strategic landmark in college football," officials said in a joint announcement.

The move comes amid rapidly changing conference alignments that could cost both conferences members as the Big East and Big 12 realign.  

"The role of a conference is to provide its members with the best possible environment in which to conduct their intercollegiate athletics programs," said Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson.  "Rather than await changes in membership due to realignment, it became clear the best way to serve our institutions was to pursue an original concept. The Mountain West and C-USA share a number of similarities." 

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