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Sun Belt comments baffle Giannini

By By Stan Caldwell / EMG staff writer
Aug. 15, 2002
HATTIESBURG You can tell football season is right around the corner, if the furor over an item that appeared last week in a syndicated column is any indication.
Fans and administrators at the University of Southern Mississippi are hot under the collar about a note that ran as part of Scott McKinney's sports column, which appears in The Meridian Star and The Laurel Leader-Call.
McKinney, co-host of Southern Sports Tonight, a syndicated radio program heard on over 140 stations across the South, wrote that USM and the University of Houston were being mentioned as possible additions to the Sun Belt Conference. He further stated that the Sun Belt and Conference USA are rumored to be considering a merger.
USM has been one of the cornerstones of C-USA since the league's inception in 1996. As Giannini points out, USM, because of the marquee football schedule it plays, brings in more football television revenue to the league than any other team. That makes any potential move out of the conference a doubtful proposition.
McKinney said the item arose out of a conversation with, "a sitting conference commissioner," he spoke to during the program's current barnstorming tour of Southern football schools, but stressed that the rumor was more conjecture than anything concrete.
Nevertheless, if there is any talk of such a merger, it is news to Giannini. He says the financial stake USM has in the conference make it the best fit for the school.
McKinney insists the whole thing has been blown out of proportion, and that he has enormous respect for the USM athletic program, despite what some Eagle fans may think.
McKinney says he has attempted to contact Giannini to assure him that no slight was intended to the program, but that thus far, the two men have not spoken on the matter. An opportunity for such an encounter may come next Tuesday, when Southern Sports Tonight come to town for a live broadcast.
Meanwhile, Giannini and his staff continue to make preparations for the season opener Aug. 31 against Jackson State. USM announced Tuesday that all single-game tickets for the game have been sold out, and that season-ticket sales are well ahead of last year.
USM has set up some 2,500 temporary bleacher seats in the south end zone at Roberts Stadium to accommodate the expected overflow crowd.

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