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Middle Tennessee Florida Atlantic joining C-USA

Middle Tennessee Florida Atlantic joining C-USA

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic will join Conference USA, leaving the Sun Belt as part of the ever-changing college landscape.

Conference USA announced the addition of its new members Thursday, just two days after Tulane and East Carolina left Conference USA for the Big East even with East Carolina just leaving in football.

``These are two great universities in wonderful places that have made strong commitments to athletics, and we're excited about the potential they bring to the conference,'' C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky said.

The two new members joining Conference USA by 2014 will give the league 14 schools in 10 states.

Middle Tennessee President Sidney McPhee called Thursday a ``historic day'' noting that universities have been in ``constant movement'' to align themselves. The Blue Raiders have won eight all-sports Sun Belt trophies in 12 years, and McPhee said their desire is to compete with the best.

``I've been told when the invitation was made that Conference USA has had their eyes on us for a number of years and a number of institutions have been very impressed by the progress of this university,'' McPhee said.

Florida Atlantic caps a move from Division I-AA and puts the Owls in the league with rival FIU, which joins C-USA in 2013. FAU, with 28,000 students, opened a 29,419-seat football stadium on campus 13 months ago.

``This is a momentous day in the history of Florida Atlantic University,'' Florida Atlantic athletic director Pat Chun said.

Adding these two schools helps C-USA with two years left on its television deals with Fox and CBS.

Middle Tennessee has the most undergraduate students at a Tennessee university and is located 30 miles southeast of Nashville puts C-USA into a media market ranked 29th nationally and its fourth Top 30 market. Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton puts the league into the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale market, which ranks 38th in the country.

Banowsky said C-USA may not be done expanding.

Western Kentucky, a longtime rival of Middle Tennessee's in both the Ohio Valley Conference and Sun Belt, and New Mexico State could become C-USA members. But the commissioner said he would not discuss specifics.

Middle Tennessee athletic director Chris Massaro was more than happy to talk.

His university announced the move in its new $65 million student union building. The pep band and cheerleaders were on hand with a new banner featuring the C-USA logo. The crowd included plenty of graduates from the days when Middle Tennessee competed in Division I-AA and was in the OVC. Massaro pointed to the new $30 million education building that just opened near a $147 million science building being built across the square.

``What we're doing is mirroring the growth of the entire institution,'' the AD said.

What remains to be determined is how quickly both schools start competing in C-USA.

The Sun Belt recently added a $1 million exit fee, and Massaro said the Blue Raiders could switch conferences sooner than July 1, 2014, if it works for both the Sun Belt and C-USA.

Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Karl Benson said he was disappointed in the two schools leaving but that his league is very well positioned for the future.

``I remain very optimistic that the momentum that has been created in the past six months will continue to grow,'' Benson said. ``The continuing 10 members of the SBC are committed to excellence and I am confident that the SBC will take advantage of these latest changes in the landscape. As I have stated many times in the past six months, the SBC will be a major player in the future, especially within its geographic footprint.''

It's unlikely this is the last of conference realignment.

With several Conference USA members leaving that league for the Big East, and now that Sun Belt members are heading to C-USA, fans need to stay tuned.

``There are several outstanding universities that have indicated interest in joining the SBC,'' Benson said. ``While we have conducted research on these universities in the past six months, we will now focus on identifying the ones that will be the best `fit.' for the conference.''

Conference USA already had lost Memphis, Houston, Central Florida and SMU to the Big East earlier this year, prompting the league to add Charlotte, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Old Dominion and Texas-San Antonio starting in 2013. Middle Tennessee tried to join C-USA in that round of expansion and just missed out.

The Big Ten started up realignment again Nov. 19 by luring Maryland from the Atlantic Coast Conference followed by Rutgers leaving the Big East a day later. The ACC replaced Maryland with Louisville on Wednesday. The Big East landed Tulsa on Tuesday in all sports with East Carolina leaving Conference USA in football only.

Banowsky called the continuing realignment disturbing and volatile. He said it destroys rivalries, creates distrust among universities with all the ``commercial influence'' on conferences. But there is no avoiding it.

``They're strong forces, and so change may be the new norm in our industry,'' the C-USA commissioner said.

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How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

While meeting with Oregon's Troy Brown during the pre-draft interview process, evaluators from the Washington Wizards issued him an on-the-spot challenge. Head coach Scott Brooks pulled out a dry-erase clipboard and a pen. He wanted to see Brown draw up a play.

This is a test Brooks has administered before to other players. Some have failed miserably.

"It sounds easy to throw a board at somebody in front of a big group and say 'okay draw a play' and I have seen many plays drawn, and I have seen it where there are not five players on the floor," Brooks said.

That wasn't the case with Brown. He didn't just draw up one play, he drew up several. One in particular came to mind when asked by reporters on Thursday night soon after the Wizards took him 15th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“I think it was a situation where we were down by two or something like that," he said. "It was like a back screen into a slip, and then the fade three and they gave you a lot of various options to cause mismatches on the court for a last minute shot to either go ahead, or even attack the basket for a layup to go into overtime.”

NBC Sports Washington analyst Cory Alexander, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, demonstrated what Brown's play looked like on a whiteboard:

The Xs and Os of basketball flow effortlessly for Brown and Wizards' brass couldn't help but be impressed.

"He really understands the game. I think for a kid that is 18 years old, that is rare but he just has a good feel," Brooks said. 

"We were impressed with his character and the type of person he is and his basketball knowledge," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "Obviously, like any young player, he has a lot of work to do but he has a lot of the intangibles that I think you need in today's game."

Smarts are a big part of what makes Brown a good basketball player. He isn't a particularly explosive athlete, with a modest 33-inch max vertical leap, but he boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan and solid agility. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to operate an offense help him make the most of his natural abilities.

Passing is where his basketball IQ comes in handy. Brown is unusually good at distributing for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman at Oregon and nine times had five assists or more in a game.

He can pass like a point guard and the Wizards are excited to implement that skill into their offense.

"Passing is contagious. We’ve been pretty good the last two years and with talking about that how we even want to take another step," Brooks said. "He has the ability to make a lot of quick plays and his ball handling is pretty good for a guy his size. That is one thing I was impressed in his workout last week or when we had him. He is able to take the contact and use his strong frame to get inside the key and make plays.”

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Need to Know: Redskins stock watch—Three up, three down

Need to Know: Redskins stock watch—Three up, three down

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, June 22, 34 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins stock watch: Three up, three down

For some Redskins players, the outlook looks much brighter now than it did when last season ended. Others have seen their stocks decline. Here is a look at three players in each category.

Stock up

CB Quinton Dunbar—His rise started the day after the season ended when he signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract. It continued when the departures of Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland opened up more opportunity at his position. Then the only additions at corner were veteran Orlando Scandrick and seventh-round pick Greg Stroman. Dunbar has a clear path to a starting job, perhaps for the next few years. 

G Shawn Lauvao—At the end of the season, he was coming off of injured reserve. It was the second time in his four seasons in Washington that he finished the season on the sideline. He turned 30 last year and as the prime weeks of free agency passed he didn’t get much attention. His fortunes started to turn when the team didn’t sign or draft a guard. Then on May 4 when he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with Washington. Shortly after that Arie Kouandjio, his primary competition at left guard, was lost for the season with a quad injury. While there is no guarantee that the Redskins won’t look at other options at left guard, for right now it’s Lauvao’s job to lose. 

S Montae Nicholson—It was hard to make much out of his rookie 2017 season as he spent half of it on the sideline with injuries. But early in the offseason, Jay Gruden said that Nicholson was as important to the defense as Jordan Reed is to the offense. Given that Reed has made one Pro Bowl on his resume and could get more if he stays healthy and that his presence on the field tends to lift his teammates, that’s high praise. It means that Nicholson is at the top of the depth chart in Sharpie. He still needs to stay healthy but he is not a player who is at risk of losing his job due to an injury. 

Stock down

RB Rob Kelley—This one of pretty obvious. He finished the year on injured reserve and a couple of the running backs signed as injury replacements, Kapri Bibbs and Byron Marshall, looked pretty good. Then came the draft and Derrius Guice as the second-round pick. Right now, he looks like the No. 4 back and he will have to fight hard to keep a roster spot. 

DL Ziggy Hood—Most expected the Redskins to draft a nose tackle early and that’s what happened when they took Daron Payne in the first round. That didn’t hurt Hood’s stock much. But they followed up by taking Tim Settle later in the draft and that made the depth chart very crowded. Hood is the seventh D-lineman and they usually only keep six. Even if he makes it he could spend a lot of time on the game-day inactive list. 

S Deshazor Everett—Nobody expected the Redskins to draft a safety, but they found the speed and athleticism of Troy Apke too attractive to turn down in the fourth round of the draft. The rookie needs some work on his game, so it appears that Everett, who started eight games last year, will be the first safety off of the bench early in the season. But it’s likely that they will want to get Apke in games as soon as he’s ready and that could leave Everett on the bench. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Former Redskins Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey was born on this date in 1978. 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 34
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 48
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 71

The Redskins last played a game 173 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 79 days. 

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