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Last year around this time, we took a look at the Great Midwest Conference – they were one of the forerunners of Conference USA for its inception in the 1990s. Their older counterparts were the Metropolitan Collegiate Athletic Conference, which was more colloquially known as the Metro Conference. It was founded in 1975 with charter members Louisville, Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Memphis State, Saint Louis and Tulane. Florida State would join a year later, and when Georgia Tech received an invitation to join the ACC and bolster their football side of the conference, Virginia Tech would join the Metro. These seven schools were the core of the Metro for about a decade, and they would add Southern Miss (as a replacement for Saint Louis) and South Carolina to their ranks in 1982 and 1983, respectively.
Louisville was the undisputed flagship of the Metro Conference during its existence. They were frequent hosts of the Metro conference tournament (along with Cincinnati, Memphis and other rotating sites) and won 11 out of a possible 18 titles during the conference’s existence. They won 2 national championships in 1980 and 1986, and were also part of the Final Four in 1982 and 1983 under Denny Crum’s tutelage. After the Great Midwest exodus in 1991, they would dominate the Metro with a 35-13 record in conference play along with 3 more conference titles in this timespan.
As for Cincinnati, it was the best of times and the worst of times. They actually won the first two Metro conference tournaments while Gale Catlett was their head coach for the 1976 and 1977 seasons. None of that translated into any NCAA Tournament success, however, and they would not advance that far again until the 1991-92 season (which was the beginning of the Great Midwest Conference). UC bottomed out in the 1983-84 season with a 3-25 record during Tony Yates’ first season. Not only did they finish 0-14 in the Metro that year, there were also the events of December 20, 1983 that will live in college basketball infamy. That was the day they hosted Kentucky and lost 24-11 in a game where UC played stall ball for most of the contest. This game was one major reason for a 45-second shot clock being implemented for the 1985-86 season.
Memphis State was another program that had quite a bit of success ON the court under head coach Dana Kirk. They won conference tournament titles in 1982, 1984 and 1985 that led to 3 trips to the NCAA Tournament, including an appearance in the 1985 Final Four that was dominated by the original Big East conference. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they would be stripped of those titles and appearances by the NCAA because of violations that took place in the program. Strangely, they were allowed to play in the conference tournament in 1987, but since they were ineligible for the NCAA Tournament, they ended up winning the Metro and the conference was completely frozen out of the NCAA Tournament that year. Thankfully for Memphis State, their success in the Great Midwest Conference would be free and clean.
Tulane had an even more infamous tenure in the Metro, if that seems possible. News came out of a point-shaving scandal involving players and coaches during the 1984-85 season. The university president at the time (Eamon Kelly) completely shut down the program for 4 seasons – in effect, it was the death penalty for Tulane basketball at the time. This was the second instance in NCAA history of a self-imposed “death penalty” after the University of San Francisco shut down their program after the 1981-82 season and would not resume until the 1985-86 season. This also meant that Tulane would be expelled from the Metro membership until their basketball program would be reinstated. Tulane would resume their program in 1989, and would actually win the regular season title in the Metro for the 1991-92 season.
For the 1991-92 season, the Metro membership would drastically change thanks to football. Florida State left to join the ACC, South Carolina left to join the SEC, and Cincinnati and Memphis State left to form the Great Midwest Conference along with Saint Louis, UAB, Marquette and DePaul. In their stead, the Metro invited UNC-Charlotte, South Florida and Virginia Commonwealth as replacement schools to ensure that the conference had the minimum membership requirements to retain their automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. After the 1994-95 season, the Metro and Great Midwest Conferences ceased operations and helped to form the new Conference USA. The only exceptions were Virginia Tech and VCU – Virginia Tech would join the Atlantic 10 and VCU would join the Colonial Athletic Association.