Britton Banowsky, commissioner of Conference USA, shakes hands with MTSU alumnus Pete Fisher, vice president and general manager of the Grand Ole Opry, at a media luncheon Feb. 13, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of MTSU/J. Intintoli)
Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky got his first taste of Middle Tennessee hospitality Wednesday with a luncheon and press event at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to introduce him to Music City USA.
MTSU accepted an invitation to join the conference last November, then announced last month that it would officially leave the Sun Belt Conference and join C-USA on July 1.
Representatives from the two of Music City’s iconic institutions — the Grand Ole Opry and the Hall of Fame — were on hand to welcome the commissioner, along with representatives from Nashville Sports Council and the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
MTSU alumnus Pete Fisher, vice president and general manager of the Grand Ole Opry, presented Banowsky with a framed Opry appearance poster welcoming the commissioner to Middle Tennessee.
Fisher, a 1987 recording industry management graduate, said the poster reflects an Opry tradition and that “Britton Banowsky is our star today.”
“The Grand Ole Opry is synonymous with Nashville and Middle Tennessee,” Fisher said, following the presentation. “This (move to C-USA) is obviously a great step of growth and affirmation for everything that’s going on in this area. Conference USA obviously recognizes that. This rising tide raises all ships.”
Banowsky applauded the university’s leadership, pointing to importance of infrastructure improvements on campus as well as an emphasis on academic excellence.
“It’s a great university and what makes great universities are great leaders. Academically they do a great job not only for their students, but their student-athletes,” Banowsky said. “We think the university is absolutely a perfect fit for what we’re trying accomplish going forward in Conference USA.”
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, along with Athletics Director Chris Massaro and football head coach Rick Stockstill, led the university’s delegation at the Nashville event.
“So, on behalf of our 100,000 alumni, our outstanding faculty, staff, administrators and students, I want to offer a true Blue Raider welcome to Commissioner Britton Banowsky,” McPhee said. “Our university alumni, friends and supporters are truly excited about MTSU being a part of the largest Football Bowl Subdivision conference in the NCAA.”
MTSU officials say the move to C-USA is expected to enhance the university’s national profile athletically and academically as it joins a conference featuring member schools such as Rice, Tulane and Marshall. McPhee noted that C-USA’s partnerships with television networks CBS, Fox and ESPN will raise the profile of the university’s programs and its student-athletes.
“We have made it a point as a university to align ourselves academically and athletically with entities that will continue this university on the explosive growth pattern over the past 10 years and certainly Conference USA does just that,” McPhee said.
The commissioner traveled to Murfreesboro after the Nashville event to tour the MTSU campus and appear at a business after hours event of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce held Wednesday evening at the Kennon Sports Hall of Fame on campus.