Last September, FAU Athletic Director Pat Chun, making a trip to Dallas, called Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky.
Chun wanted to have lunch, but what he really wanted to do was pitch FAU, a school he had joined only a month earlier, to Banowsky and C-USA. Banowsky wasn’t all that interested in the Sun Belt Conference school, but Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith, who had Chun as his No. 2, suggested that Banowsky get to know his former protégée.
The specifics of the meeting escape both men, but it proved to be successful for both parties. Last November, FAU was invited to join the league, and Thursday night, a year after the two met, FAU played in its first-ever Conference USA game in front of a national television audience.
“He said he was going to be in town anyway, so he wanted to grab some lunch and talk. I didn’t have any preconceived notions other than getting to know him a little bit,” Banowsky recalled. “At the time, I think we were in the early stages of re-alignment play and kind of working through some scenarios. It was not clear to me that FAU would be a school that would be plugged in.”
The meeting with Chun changed that.
“Being someone who studied this [realignment] thing I knew that when I got here I didn't want to be faulted for being passive,” Chun said. “I wanted to be aggressive with the whole thing. [The lunch] was the first face-to-face to get a feeling where they stood with us and let them understand directly with me that we wanted to be in their league.”
Chun laid out his plan to grow FAU Athletics, with the school’s year-old stadium as the centerpiece. Banowsky had already seen FAU Stadium, making a stop on the FAU campus when he vacationed in South Florida in 2010.
After the meeting, Chun’s message stuck in Banowsky’s mind. The wheels of conference realignment began to turn again soon thereafter, and Banowsky, like Chun, did not want to be passive as the American Athletic Conference recruited Conference USA’s teams.
“My memory fails me from time to time, especially with so much re-alignment, but we were going through a period where we had a decision to make if we were going to grow and expand the conference to a bigger number like 14,” Banowsky said. “My instincts were that we should probably do it. I felt like FAU made a lot of sense… Our plan was to identify universities that are in growth areas, that are growing universities, that have made investments in athletics and that have upside potential up the road.
“When you took the attributes and compared it to FAU, it matched up really well.”
But growth potential and a nice stadium weren’t the only things that led to FAU’s invitation to join Conference USA.
“I felt like FAU made a lot of sense principally because it created a travel partner arrangement with FIU… That took FIU off an island,” Banowsky said. “You can tell a school like Marshall "this ensures you can play a football game in South Florida every year."
Would Banowsky had seen those things if Chun hadn’t set up their Dallas lunch? It’s a great hypothetical, but three months after that meeting, FAU was invited by Banowsky to join Conference USA.
“The good thing is that we always had healthy dialogue with Conference USA before the initial invitation from the league,” Chun said. “It's amazing how the world has changed in such a short period of time, but there was so much movement. We knew we profiled like a Conference USA type of school.
“Timing is everything, fortunately for FAU the timing was perfect.”
How a casual lunch turned into a Conference USA bid for FAU
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