Tuesday, May 8, 2012

49ers Pigskin Fever in the Air

(Pictured here are 49ers head coaches Brad Lambert [football], Cara Consuegra [women's basketball], Alan Major [men's basketball] and Loren Hibbs [baseball].)

By Paul Nowell

The only ingredients missing at this pep rally were the tailgaters, the marching band and cheerleaders, as UNC Charlotte officials confirmed the Charlotte 49ers are moving back to Conference USA.
The move affects all of the university’s 17 sports teams, but the sport that was on everyone’s mind won’t take the field for another year – football.

"We have yet to take a snap on McColl-Richardson field, yet to play our first game, yet to have even our first practice — but because of who we are, because of what we’ve done, and because of the great community we live in — we have the unique opportunity to become one of the first programs in history to go from no football to FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) football in the minimum time allowed by NCAA regulations,” Chancellor Philip L. Dubois told a jammed news conference last week.

The 49ers football team will kick off its inaugural season in 2013 as an independent FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) program and will compete in its first FBS season in Conference USA in 2015. Charlotte will be bowl eligible for football in the 2016 season.
“We not only found a conference to play in – but we found an FBS Conference,” said Director of Athletics Judy Rose. “A top 10 basketball conference.  A conference that includes regional rivals, and holds national attention and it’s a conference that has an in-state opponent to fight for bragging rights.  It’s a strong conference across the board.”

Conference USA, which is adding four other schools, will have a 13-team membership that includes Charlotte, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, North Texas, Rice, Southern Mississippi, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB, UTEP and University of Texas at San Antonio.

An extra bonus is that another conference member is East Carolina. ECU fans are among the most fanatic in the state, if not the country. The atmosphere in Greenville on a football Saturday should be viewed as the standard for Charlotte to emulate.

“Charlotte-East Carolina should evolve into a big-time rivalry,” Charlotte Observer sports columnist Tom Sorensen wrote after attending the announcement. “If the 49ers want a primer, they ought to drive to Greenville. The Pirates have among the best fans, facilities and traditions in North Carolina.”
Charlotte was a member of Conference USA from 1995-96 to 2004-05.  The 49ers joined the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2005-06 and will remain in that league through the 2012-13 season.

“We enjoyed our time in the Atlantic 10 but we needed to find a permanent home for our football program.  We found Conference USA -- and it feels great,” said Rose.

Paul Nowell is media relations manager in UNC Charlotte's Office of Public Relations.

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