Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Summer 2012: the five stages of grief

Last Monday was Memorial Day. Today's high reached 94 degrees. Tomorrow is Kirby's last day of school.We all know what that means, although we might have a difficult time accepting it. With that in mind, I present the five stages of grief for summer 2012:
Denial: It's okay. There's still time to enjoy the outdoors. After all, summer doesn't officially start until June 21st! (Of course, I've addressed this misconception before.)

Anger: Damnit! This @$#% heat really pisses me off! Where the @$#% did spring go? I hate living in this @$#% hot-ass city!

Bargaining: Can't we just have one more cool front before the oppressive heat sets in? (Actually, we might be getting one tomorrow, although it probably won't do much.)

Depression: I can't do anything in this heat, so what's the point? I might as well fall into a coma until October.

Acceptance: Well, at least the malls, museums and Minute Maid Park are air conditioned. And football season is only three months away!
This summer might be an eventful one for me, not because of the trips I have planned (I'll be making my usual June trip to New Orleans in a couple of weeks, and Kirby's and my annual trip to Colorado will probably occur in August) but because it looks like I will be moving sometime in July. I'll still be in Houston; I'll just be living in a more prestigious part of town. I'll provide more details later.

It's also worth noting that, as of last weekend, my girlfriend Michelle and I have been together for an entire year. She's a teacher, so she's probably one of the few people who actually enjoys the summer...

Southwest approved to fly internationally from Houston Hobby; United throws temper tantrum

A high-profile struggle between two large airlines over the future of commercial aviation in Houston came to a conclusion earlier today:
City Council approved a plan Wednesday that will give Houston two international airports, settling a debate over whether flights from Hobby to Latin America would boost the local economy or divide the city against itself and trigger layoffs, canceled routes and stagnation at Bush Intercontinental Airport.
This plan was, of course, championed by Southwest Airlines, which had previously pledged to spend $100 million of their own money on a five-gate international facility at Hobby Airport. In return, Southwest would control four of the five gates, be exempted from paying rent to the city for use of the new facility, and receive a rebate linked to any increased sales that might occur at Hobby as a result of their new international services. Southwest plans to use the international terminal to offer flights to Mexico and the Carribean beginning in 2015, pending federal approvals.

However, no sooner had Southwest begun celebrating council's decision when the losing side issued a statement that could only be regarded as sour grapes:
Within hours, United Airlines told employees in a bulletin that, as a result of the council vote, it would be cutting planned operations at Bush Intercontinental by 10 percent and eliminating 1,300 Houston jobs, with the first buyouts, transfers or pink slips going out in the fall. It immediately canceled planned service to Auckland, New Zealand.
Council's 16-1 vote, according to the bulletin, also puts in "significant doubt" whether United will complete a planned $700 million expansion of Terminal B at Bush Intercontinental on which it broke ground in January.
Spiteful much, United? Maybe you guys should change your name to Cartman Airlines, i.e."screw you guys, I'm going home!"

Of course, it's easy to understand why United was opposed to this plan: with the exception of a handful of flights to Mexico City, Monterrey and San Salvador offered by AeroMexico, VivaAerobus and TACA, United has an absolute lock on flights out of Houston to Latin America and the Caribbean. The fact that Southwest plans to begin flying to some Latin American destinations out of Hobby in 2015 means that United will actually have to - gasp! - compete for local passengers on those routes. With competition, of course, comes lower airfares.

I'm not buying United's reasoning that today's decision is forcing them to cut 1,300 jobs, and neither is Mayor Annise Parker:
"They've stated continuously that they welcome competition. That competition is at least three years away. So, for United to say there are going to be 1,300 people laid off next week or so, that's just not reasonable. Because nothing is going to happen until that terminal is built. There's no competition today. So any decisions they make in terms of personnel are based on other things - not the vote we cast today."
Exactly. United (which posted a $448 million loss in the first quarter of this year) was probably planning to make these cuts all along and is simply using Council's vote as a convenient scapegoat. Take the cancellation of the planned flight between Houston and Auckland as an example: how, exactly, does Southwest's plan to fly to Mexico and the Caribbean in 2015 affect a service to New Zealand that was scheduled to begin later this year? More likely, United analysts came to realize that this ultra-long-haul route would not attract enough passengers to be profitable.

Besides, it's not like Southwest, operating out of four international gates at Hobby (which will limit the number of flights they can provide) and exclusively using Boeing 737 equipment (which will limit the range of the destinations they will be able to serve), is going to pose some sort of mortal threat to United's Caribbean and Latin American operations out of Bush Intercontinental.

In the weeks leading up to today's vote, Southwest and United had released dueling studies regarding the economic impact of opening Hobby to international flights: Southwest claimed that it would add between 10,000 and 18,000 jobs to the local economy, while United maintained that it would actually cost the city 3,700 jobs. While I share Kuff's contention that these competing projections are "more voodoo than anything else" - a consultant's study will say anything you pay them to say - the idea that competition on a handful of international air routes is actually bad for the local economy simply beggars belief. Furthermore, it's now clear that most, if not all, of United's projected 3,700 jobs lost will be coming from United itself (and that's in addition to the hundreds, if not thousands, of Houston jobs that were already lost when United consolidated headquarters operations in Chicago after the merger).

The funny thing is, had this dispute been between Southwest and pre-merger Continental, I might have been somewhat sympathetic to Continental, as it would have a fight between the hometown airline and the Dallas airline. But now, post-merger, it's a struggle between the Texas airline and the Illinois airline, and I just can't feel sympathetic to United's desire to maintain their near-monopoly on Latin American services.

I was always opposed to Continental merging with another carrier, and I was as annoyed as anyone when it finally happened. Since then, Southwest has become my preferred domestic carrier, and I hope to make use of their international services out of Hobby when they start. As for United: given that they still serve a considerable number of destinations from Houston, and given that I still have a rather large frequent flyer balance with them, I'm not going to try to claim that I will never fly them again. But today's temper tantrum certainly does not endear them to me, and from now on I'll be taking my business elsewhere whenever possible.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Three yards and a cloud of dust

Speaking of the Astrodome, this wonderful old photograph appeared on Sports Illustrated's photo blog a couple of days ago:
This picture was taken by SI photographer Neil Leifer on November 13, 1965, when the University of Houston hosted the Kentucky Wildcats in the Astrodome (the Coogs won, 38-21). Leifer probably took this photo from one of the catwalks underneath the Astrodome ceiling, hence the unique overhead perspective.

This was the Cougars' first season in the Astrodome, and they are indeed playing on a dirt field. As some people might remember, the Dome originally had a natural grass field. However, the glare from the skylights meant that baseball players couldn't see fly balls, so the skylights were painted over and the grass died. Astroturf was introduced the following year.

Two Cougar football legends - quarterback Bo Burris (#16, probably carrying the ball) and halfback Dickie Post (#26) - can be seen in action.

A very cool picture, indeed.

Stupid clichés shouldn't be an option

Failure is not an option.

I saw a bumper sticker bearing this phrase a few days ago, and it got me to thinking: Really? When is failure ever an option?

This motivational cliché has been used countless times over the years: maybe it's used by the CEO in the boardroom, or the coach in the locker room, or the political candidate in the campaign room. (Contrary to popular belief, NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz never uttered it during the Apollo 13 mission.) And on the surface, the phrase makes sense in its purpose of getting a group of people to understand the critical importance of succeeding at a given task. But dig a little deeper, and the cliché really makes no sense at all.

About a year ago, former ESPN columnist Patrick Hruby asked, "Is there any contemporary catchphrase more cliched, more tired, more dumb and more just plain fraudulent than 'failure is not an option?'" After providing a few examples of its use, he writes:
Here's the thing: Failure truly isn't an option. Not now. Not ever. Not in any circumstance. Because tough-sounding talk aside, failure is an outcome. There's a difference. A world of it. Options involve choice. Outcomes involve what happens because of -- or despite -- choices.

Look, nobody save sports point-shavers and stock market short-sellers ever draws up a what-to-do-next list and includes failure in the action plan. No one intends to fail. No one sets course for the center of the sun. Not everyone can win like Charlie Sheen, but everyone wants to. If success was exclusively a matter of choice -- as Rick Pitino suggests -- we'd all be rich, famous and publishing Pitino-like victory manuals from the helipad of a yacht docked off the coast of Southern France. 
Exactly. Whether it be in the business world, the sports world, the political world or anywhere else, no rational person (or group of people) who earnestly wishes to achieve a particular goal would "choose" to fail. Anybody who does so is either not rational, or for whatever reason does not want to succeed (for reasons of apathy, or a deliberate desire to sabotage).

Maybe the straight-A student decides to fail a test every now and then so as not to appear to his teachers and peers to be the insufferable overachiever: that's fine, but that falls under sabotage - under the "does not want to succeed" category. Maybe the basketball player purposely misses a few crucial shots in order to make a few sports bookies - and likely himself - a bit of extra money. That's also a (rather illegal) form of sabotage. But nobody who truly wants to succeed is going to choose to fail. Period.

Sometimes, in spite of our greatest efforts, we fail at a task that we earnestly wished to accomplish. It's not because we "chose" to fail. It's simply because other factors - outside forces out of our control, or the fact that our best effort, for whatever reason, just wasn't good enough to complete the task at hand - came into play and determined the outcome. But as Hruby notes, "outcome" is not the same as "choice."

So please, folks, stop using this stupid cliché.

The beginning of the end of the Astrodome

Earlier this week, a consultant's report commissioned by Harris County regarding the future of the aging and derelict Reliant Astrodome was released:
The Astrodome, a now-empty showplace that has hosted everyone from Elvis Presley to Hurricane Katrina evacuees, should be turned into a multipurpose facility that could spark fresh interest in the city of Houston, a group of consultants recommended Wednesday.

The $270 million option was one of four considered by consultants led by Dallas-based CSL. The other options included leaving the dome alone, demolishing it and building an outdoor plaza, or building a massive and expensive "renaissance" complex anchored by a luxury hotel.

In a presentation to Harris County's sports and convention agency, the consultants said the multipurpose option could turn Houston into a popular destination for special events and national trade shows. The plan would preserve the iconic structure's outer shell.
Short of the barrage of pie-in-the-sky ideas about turning the Astrodome into a convention hotel or a museum or a soundstage,  I've always thought that turning the Eighth Wonder of the World into some sort of multipurpose facility made the most sense. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo could use it for livestock or entertainment space. Major conventions like the Offshore Techngology Conference could use it as exhibition space. It could be used as premium indoor tailgating space during Texans games.

But here's the problem: according to the study, it will cost $270 million to turn the 47-year-old structure into a multipurpose venue. Couple that with the money it will cost to replace the adjacent Reliant Arena (a rather dreary place where local sports teams go to die), and the resulting cost would likely require a tax hike on Harris County residents:
If voters approve a proposed $523 million bond issue to renovate the Astrodome and replace Reliant Arena, Harris County officials say property taxes likely would have to rise to make the resulting debt payments.

The recommendation to put the plans to a vote came Wednesday from the county's Sports & Convention Corp., the board in charge of county-owned Reliant Park. Consultants pegged the cost to replace the aging arena at $385 million and the price tag to renovate the Dome at $270 million.

Costs could be reduced to a combined $523 million by the use of tax credits, the consultants said. A cheaper option for the Dome would be to knock it down and turn it into a plaza for $64 million. None of those numbers include the $29.9 million the county still owes on the Dome, which hasn't been home to a professional sports team in 12 years and has been deemed unfit for occupancy since 2009.

Bill Jackson, the county's chief budget officer, said such a large bond issue likely would require a tax hike or deep budget cuts, particularly given other projects for which the county will need to sell bonds, such as a forensic sciences facility.
As the article indicates, County elected officials don't really seem to have much of an appetite for a tax increase just to save the iconic yet dilapidated structure. And neither of Reliant Park's main tenants seem overly enthusiastic about the Dome's survival, either; Texans owner Bob McNair is more concerned about keeping the adjacent Reliant Stadium in a state of good repair, and Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo chairman Leroy Shafer clearly believes that the future of Reliant Arena is more important than that of the Astrodome. County residents, meanwhile, are probably not about to vote themselves a tax increase.

Given this, as well as the fact that it's much cheaper to demolish the Astrodome than it is to renovate it, I sadly think that the writing is on the wall for the venerable old stadium: sometime in the next few years, it is going to be torn down. John Royal of the Houston Press reluctantly agrees:
I love the Astrodome. It is still the Eighth Wonder of the World, something that will never, ever be said about Reliant Stadium or Minute Maid Park. But something needs to be done. And that something is something I thought I would never write, never say, never believe. It's time to put the Dome out of its misery. It needs to be demolished. Make the space a memorial of some kind with lots of green space and trees. Place statues about the grounds of the great athletes who once roamed the building.

It's not the perfect solution. But it's clear that Harris County officials are incompetent and don't give a damn. The consultants do nothing but spend money and offer up nothing realistic. And if they were asked in private, it's pretty clear Rodeo officials would be more than happy if it were gone.

The Astrodome has suffered enough. Let's just finally end it all now. Before more money's wasted. Before the Dome falls apart further. Before another magical casino/hotel/convention center plan gets offered up as the totally unrealistic solution.
Besides, this is Houston. We do not preserve our architectural legacy in this city. When a building, no matter how historic or iconic or aesthetically pleasing, is no longer functional, we demolish it and build anew in its place. It's sad, but it's just the way it is.

Having grown up watching so many Cougar football and Astros baseball games in the Dome, I know I'll miss it. But Royal is right: neither the public nor the private sector have the money or willpower required to rehabilitate the Astrodome into something useful, and it continues to sit as sad and embarrassing eyesore next to Reliant Stadium, neglected and useless. It's time to put it out of its misery.

The time has come to demolish the Astrodome.

UPDATE: according to a regular poster at, it might make the most economic sense just to leave the Astrodome in is current condition for the foreseeable future.

Friday, May 18, 2012

RIP Donna Summer

Donna Summer, who passed away Thursday,  was considered the "Queen of Disco." And she did have a lot of iconic songs from that era: "Love To Love You Baby," "Last Dance," "MacAuthur Park," "Bad Girls," "Hot Stuff," "On The Radio," etc. But there's one song of hers, above all others, that I consider to be her greatest:

"I Feel Love" - with its eerie synthesizer chords, its galloping baseline, Summer's sparse yet seductive lyrics - is not only one of the best songs of the disco era, but a song whose impact has been felt in pop music far beyond the end of disco. As The Guardian music critic Jon Savage explains:
I Feel Love was and remains an astonishing achievement: a futuristic record that still sounds fantastic 35 years on. Within its modulations and pulses, it achieves the perfect state of grace that is the ambition of every dance record: it obliterates the tyranny of the clock – the everyday world of work, responsibility, money – and creates its own time, a moment of pleasure, ecstasy and motion that seems infinitely expandable, if not eternal.

Back in 1977, I Feel Love was a radical breakthrough, and was designed as such. It was started as a cut for I Remember Yesterday, an album that producer Giorgio Moroder originally planned as a mini-tour through dance music history: a Dixieland number here, a Tamla number there. To complete the project, he needed what NME called a "next-disco sound".

"I had already had experience with the original Moog synthesisers," Moroder told NME in December 1978, "so I contacted this guy who owned one of the large early models. It was all quite natural and normal for me. I simply instructed him about what programmings I needed. I didn't even think to notice that for the large audience this was perhaps a very new sound."
It was indeed a very new sound, one that influenced everything from the synth-pop and house music of the 1980s to the rave and trance music of the 90s to the techno and dance music of today:
Speaking to Summer's genre-bending influence, house-music forefather Frankie Knuckles called her unforgettable hit "I Feel Love" one of the most commercial electronic pieces of music ever written.
"Today you can hear its influence on all popular Dance music, House, Techno, Trance," he told MTV News in a statement. "She was deemed 'The Queen Of Disco.' She's been sampled and ideas of her songs have crept into today's popular dance music by everybody. Her association with [legendary record producer] Giorgio Moroder set the tone for what Dance Music is all about."
The reception of Summer's iconic 1977 anthem essentially revolutionized music, not to mention the rest of her chart-toppers that would soon follow.

"One day in Berlin, [Brian] Eno came running in and said, 'I have heard the sound of the future,' " David Bowie famously wrote in the liner notes to Sound and Vision. "He puts on 'I Feel Love,' by Donna Summer. ... He said, 'This is it, look no further. This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next 15 years.' Which was more or less right."
Summer died at the age of 63 of lung cancer, even though she did not appear to be a regular smoker. She will be missed, but her influence will always endure.

UPDATE: Donna Summer is not the only disco icon to pass away in the last few days. Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees died on Sunday after a long battle with liver cancer. He was 62.

Jarrett Walker

On Monday, I attended a Houston Tomorrow symposium which featured public transit consultant Jarrett Walker. I was happy to finally meet Walker in person, because his Human Transit blog is a daily read of mine. He has over two decades' worth of consulting experience in places all over the world, and is the author of the book Human Transit - How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives, a copy of which I finally got my hands on at last week's event. He's also a very good public speaker.

As the title of his book suggests, Walker stresses the importance of clarity in the design and provision of public transportation services, so that the system becomes understandable, and therefore useful, to the greatest number of potential riders. In doing so, he urges people - users and non-users alike - to think a little bit differently about how public transit services should be provided.

For example, while transit services are oftentimes evaluated on speed (i.e. will that bus or train get me to my destination quicker than my car?), Walker argues that it is the frequency of the service - that is, how often it runs - rather than the speed that is of most importance to the transit user: after all, what good is a "fast" service if it only comes once an hour? As he says in his book, "frequency is freedom."

This, in turn, has implications on an agency's route network, which he describes as its geometry: a simple grid of frequently-running bus or rail lines can oftentimes provide better service than a confusing web of routes intended to provide specific, point-to-point service but which, out of financial reality, operate infrequently.

He also urges people to spend less time focusing on "technology" issues - i.e. the tiresome bus-versus-rail debates that seem to consume every city that is considering building or expanding bus rapid transit, light rail or heavy rail lines - and spend more time focusing on underlying factors such as frequency, geometry and separation from traffic that will have a greater impact on the service's effectiveness than whether it runs on rubber tires or steel wheels.

Walker also emphasizes the importance of clear information for users, whether it be in transit maps (which can oftentimes be confusing) or the naming of bus or rail routes (which oftentimes don't really tell you where a bus or train actually goes). In order for a system to be useful to the greatest number of people as possible, it has to be as clear to use as possible.

The previous paragraphs only scratch the surface of Walker's work, which is an invaluable resource for elected officials, agency personnel, transportation consultants and the general public alike. I would urge anybody who is interested in the subject of public transportation to spend some time reading his blog or pick up a copy of his book.

An excellent review of his book is here.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Color footage of Otavalo in 1949

Click here (embedding on this YouTube video has been disabled, for some reason) for fascinating color footage of the town of Otavalo and its indigenous inhabitants from 1949. The Otavaleños dress much the same way today, although they now usually aren't barefoot and the women rarely wear the wide-brimmed hats anymore. Mount Imbabura, with its patchwork of fields, looks much the same way today as it did sixty years ago, and to this day people still wash their clothes on the shores of Lago San Pablo as they do in this film.

Footage of Otavalo and its environs comprises the first seven minutes of the film, but starting at the ten minute mark there is footage of colonial Quito that it just as compelling and speaks to the timelessness that is Ecuador.

Maybe it's about time for me to make another trip down there. I haven't been to my "home away from home" in over a decade.

RIP Adam "MCA" Yauch

Well, this sucks.
Adam Yauch, one-third of the pioneering hip-hop group the Beastie Boys, has died at the age of 47, Rolling Stone has learned. Yauch, also known as MCA, had been in treatment for cancer since 2009. The rapper was diagnosed in 2009 after discovering a tumor in his salivary gland. 
"It is with great sadness that we confirm that musician, rapper, activist and director Adam 'MCA' Yauch, founding member of Beastie Boys and also of the Milarepa Foundation that produced the Tibetan Freedom Concert benefits, and film production and distribution company Oscilloscope Laboratories, passed away in his native New York City this morning after a near-three-year battle with cancer," reads an official statement from the Beastie Boys. "He was 47 years old." 
Yauch sat out the Beastie Boys' induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April, and his treatments delayed the release of the group's most recent album, Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2. The Beastie Boys had not performed live since the summer of 2009, and Yauch's illness prevented the group from appearing in music videos for Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2.

There was a time in the spring of 1987 - I was in eighth grade - when I probably would have been able to recite every lyric of every track on Licensed to Ill: an album that could easily have been written off as a parody record suitable for playing only at fraternity parties (seriously, a trio of middle-class Jewish kids from Brooklyn making a rap album?) but would instead become the first hip-hop album to reach #1 on Billboard's Hot 200 albums chart and eventually become the biggest selling rap album of the 1980s.

Licensed to Ill's sample-laden fusion of rock and rap was unlike anything any of us at my inner-city middle school had ever heard before; its self-assured, bombastic rebelliousness was thematic for the mid-80s adolescent. The white kids at my inner-city middle school almost universally loved the album when it came out. Most of my black classmates seemed to enjoy it as well, although a few argued at the time that it was a lame attempt by a group of white poseurs to appropriate a form of music that until then had been the exclusive purview of the African-American community. The resulting classroom dialogue was as interesting, in retrospect, as it was contentious.

Music critics, furthermore, generally seem to agree that Licensed to Ill was far from the Beasties' best album. That accolade usually goes to the criminally under-appreciated Paul's Boutique, and their '90s work - Check Your Head, Ill Communication, Hello Nasty - was regarded by the musical intelligentsia to be artistically stronger and more mature as well.

I don't disagree, and songs like "High Plains Drifter," "Hey Ladies," "So What'cha Want," "Sabotage" and "Intergalactic" will always be favorites of mine. But, from an emotional and nostalgic standpoint, they will never be quite as meaningful to me as tracks such as "Paul Revere," "Brass Monkey," "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" and "Fight For Your Right (to Party)." My affinity for Licensed to Ill is one of those things that I just can't explain to people not of my generation: you had to have "been there" in order to fully appreciate it.

Yauch and his bandmates, Mike "Mike D" Diamond and Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz, are now regarded as a integral part of rap's rise to mainstream acceptance. as Time's Touré notes, "The Beasties were a seminal early hip hop group that the genre needed to grow into a phenomenon because they served as an entry point for millions of white fans and because they helped expand the boundaries of hip hop with their sonic experiments." Licensed to Ill had a lot to do with that: as good as their later work was, does anybody honestly believe that the Beastie Boys would have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had that album never been released?

Somewhere among this clutter is a dusty old CD of Licensed to Ill. Tomorrow I'm going to dig it (along with Paul's Boutique) out, dust it off and play it through for the first time in years. And I bet I'll still be able to remember most of the lyrics.

Rest in peace, MCA. You will be missed.

North Texas to join Conference USA, and other realignment news

The conference realignment dominoes continue to fall. Conference USA, which is losing Houston, SMU, Central Florida and Memphis to the Big East after the 2012-2013 season, is back-filling its ranks by picking up a handful of schools, including North Texas:
Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky today announced that the University of North Texas has been extended and accepted an invitation for Conference USA membership, effective July 1, 2013.  UNT is one of five schools that will be joining Conference USA, along with the University of Texas-San Antonio, Louisiana Tech University,  Florida International University and the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

"This is validation that the progress we have made in our athletic programs in conjunction with our university's academic reputation has made us a suitable fit for the high standards of Conference USA," Director of Athletics Rick Villarreal says.  "Conference USA provides a great partnership with several schools in our geographic proximity and will help all of us create outstanding regional rivalries.  It is a tremendous opportunity for North Texas athletics."

Each new member will join the league in all sports for 2013, Charlotte will begin conference participation in football in 2015. The metro area population of these schools is nearly 18 million. Existing members are East Carolina University, Marshall University, Rice University, University of Southern Mississippi, Tulane University, The University of Tulsa, University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and University of Texas El Paso (UTEP). Divisions will be set in the near future.
I think this is a good move for the Mean Green. However weak C-USA might be perceived nationally, it is still a step up from UNT's current home in the Sun Belt Conference. As of right now, Conference USA has more bowl tie-ins and a better television contract than the Sun Belt. Furthermore, the geographic compactness of the new western C-USA - Tulsa, Louisiana Tech, Rice, and Texas-San Antonio are all relatively easy drives from Denton, and Southern Miss, Tulane and Texas-El Paso are doable for the more adventurous - reduces travel costs to the program and allows the Mean Green faithful to see more road games than they were able to do in the Sun Belt, which had no other schools in Texas and whose nearest school to UNT was in Monroe, Louisiana.

In addition to North Texas, four other schools will be joining Conference USA in 2013. Louisiana Tech won the Western Athletic Conference football championship last year but had never been a good geographic fit for the WAC. Texas-San Antonio has only been playing college football for one year but, given that it is the only FBS football program in the nation's seventh-largest city and plays in an outstanding facility in the Alamodome, has a lot of potential. The addition of Florida International University allows C-USA to keep a presence in the recruiting hotbed of Florida, and the Panthers have gone bowling the last two seasons. UNC-Charlotte was a non-football member of Conference USA from 1995 until 2005. It will rejoin C-USA for all sports except football in 2013 and its nascent football program will begin conference play in  2015.

In other conference realignment news, Utah State and San Jose State are leaving the WAC to join the Mountain West Conference, while South Alabama, Texas State and Georgia State are becoming members of the Sun Belt. Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel notes that one-fourth of the Football Bowl Subdivision's teams will have changed conferences during this current round of realignment and provides a handy recap for those who might be confused. He also notes that this current reshuffling of programs will leave the WAC with only two members, both of which might be forced to drop down to the Football Championship Subdivision. Brett McMurphy of CBS Sports plays taps for the once-proud WAC while simultaneously noting that its demise will mean more money for the remaining ten FBS conferences.