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FAU coach Carl Pelini says the Owls need to become more marketable to larger conferences. (OwlAccess.com photo)

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Pelini: Plan needed

FAU coach Carl Pelini says FAU needs to have a plan that will enable the Owls advance from the Sun Belt - a conference he isn't sure will exist five years from now.

Originally published on 5/1/2012

by Chuck King

BOCA RATON - FAU football coach Carl Pelini says he isn't concerned about the rumored defections of Florida International and North Texas from the Sun Belt Conference.

It's more important, the FAU coach figures, that the Owls have a plan for a future that won't necessarily include the Sun Belt.

“I think the landscape of college football is changing to where I don't know that there will be a Sun Belt in five or six years, realistically,” Pelini said. “I think there are going to be four, five major conferences and you better be in a position to (get into one). But there are going to be a lot of teams in those major conferences that aren't in them now.”

According to multiple reports, FIU and North Texas could officially announce they are moving to Conference USA later this week.

The Sun Belt has scheduled a media conference call Wednesday to address the “future of the conference.” The conference is expected to announce that Texas State and possibly Texas-Arlingtonm which doesn't play football, will be joining the league.

Recent reports also have Charlotte turning down an invitation to join the Sun Belt and accepting an invitation to C-USA.

“I don't know that Conference USA is the answer, but I do know this: That we probably have about a four year window to make ourselves marketable,” Pelini said. “This is a huge, pivotal time for the athletic program - probably the university as a whole.”

Pelini came to FAU in December after spending four years at Nebraska. During that time Cornhuskers Athletic Director Tom Osborne made the pro-active of move of taking Nebraska from the Big 12 to the Big Ten.

That switch was part of a flurry of moves among teams in BCS and non BCS conferences in recent years, dramatically changing the football landscape.

Former FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger continually stated his goal of becoming a member of the Big East, while former FAU Athletic Director Craig Angelos consistently maintained that FAU was taking a wait and see approach to conference realignment.

One of the changes Angelos saw involved Central Florida, late in 2011, accepting an invitation to join the Big East.

In the days that followed Angelos' March firing, FAU president Mary Jane Saunders told OwlAccess.com that conference realignment decisions “have already been made” and that, “We're staying in the Sun Belt.”

Now it appears that two of the top programs in the Sun Belt, including the Owls' main rival, are taking a step forward.

“I don't think FIU and North Texas leaving should have any impact on what our ultimate vision is for this program or this athletic department,” Pelini said.

Pelini wouldn't expound much on his vision, saying that's a private conversation he hopes to have when FAU's new AD is hired. He does point to UCF as a program that executed its vision.

“Much like Central Florida did – you have to have a vision and you've got to be willing to take some risk and maybe go into debt for a few years to achieve the position that you want.”

The Owls have already taken on a good bit of debt, opening a $70 million football stadium in 2011. FAU financed most of the cost.

Despite shortcomings in other facilities, most notably the baseball stadium and the basketball arena, Pelini believes the fertile football recruiting grounds in South Florida will draw the interest from conferences that continue to think expansion.

“That gives us a lot of bargaining power,” Pelini said. “How do we take advantage of that? A) We have to have a full stadium. B) we are probably going to have to have a new basketball arena.”

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