RE: Emails/Letters to President Noland (Addresses included)
The original members of C-USA in 1995 were Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette, Charlotte, St. Louis, South Florida, UAB, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, and Tulane.
Houston, after the SWC dissolved, joined the next year and I would imagine that was a done deal, they just had to play out the string in the SWC for a year. That made an even dozen. East Carolina and Army joined as football-only members two years later to bring the amount of football playing schools to 10.
This sounds to me like another Tennessee urban legend (like Jim Valvano and Bill Cowher are going to coach the Vols).
What I could imagine that if ETSU was contacted, the C-USA was sending out feelers to many colleges. But where would ETSU fit in there?
In fact, in 1995, why would ETSU have been more desirable than Chattanooga or Marshall out of the SoCon? Marshall would have jumped at the chance- why would they have gone to the MAC if they could have gotten in on the ground floor of this conference? Marshall was drawing lots of fans, was expanding their stadium to Division I-A capacity, and, coached by Billy Donovan, was a much better basketball program than ETSU at the time.
Chattanooga would have presented a football facility that, unlike Memorial Center, would have been able to hold 15,000 fans a game, the minimum needed to stay in Division I-A. It also is a larger TV market and dare I say, even the name "Chattanooga" sounds a bit more big time than "East Tennessee State."
ETSU was 7-20 at the time in basketball and playing in a facility that only sat 12,000 for football. Now, could C-USA have approached them as a secondary target for the conference and inquired if they would be willing to move their football program up? Sure. But that would have required building a new stadium for a football program that even back then there were grumblings about long term viability. And ETSU would not have been a primary target for the conference.
By the way, before you begin "we would have had football and four of those schools don't," come on. Would you rather have a prestigious traditional basketball power from Chicago or ETSU in market No. 92 or whatever it was back then and a timetable to advance football to Division 1-A, especially when the league broke down so perfectly with eight football schools and 12 basketball schools?
Again, Marshall would have been a far more attractive catch back then and eventually did join the C-USA in 2005.
Can you see where a inquiry from C-USA as a fallback plan, if it did happen, in 17 years could be turned into the urban legend "C-USA offered but ETSU turned them down?"
Even if ETSU had given the green light to such a project they would have been behind those two other SoCon schools on the pecking order, if not Appalachian State, and certainly South Florida, which started their football program in 1997 and had the luxury of a much larger enrollment, talent pool, television market, athletic director in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (not a knock against Keener Fry, but if you're going to choose Keener Fry or Lee Roy Selmon to emphasize building a football program who are you going to choose?) and a major league facility in Tampa Stadium to play in.
I have heard when ETSU dropped football and in need of a new conference they did call the C-USA up and they came down here and told ETSU their facilities were substandard. That's what started the facilities boom.