Sources: Southern Miss Officially Joins Sun Belt Conference; Marshall, Old Dominion, James Madison to Join in Coming Days
Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: The Southern Miss Golden Eagles.
- The Southern Miss Golden Eagles have officially joined the Sun Belt, our Brett McMurphy reports.
- With the addition of the Golden Eagles, the Sun Belt is now expected to add Marshall, Old Dominion, and James Madison.
- After the changes, Liberty may now refrain from joining Conference USA.
The Sun Belt officially added Southern Miss from Conference USA on Friday, and the Sun Belt is expected to add more C-USA schools soon, sources told the Action Network.
A charter member of Conference USA since 1995, Southern Miss applied and was accepted into the Sun Belt on Friday. The Golden Eagles will begin play in their new conference in 2023, sources said.
USM is expected to be the first of four new Sun Belt members, sources said. Conference USA members Old Dominion and Marshall and FCS member James Madison are expected to join the Sun Belt, although those schools have not officially applied for Sun Belt membership yet, sources said.
However, the additions of those three schools to the Sun Belt are viewed as just a formality, and an official announcement of some new members to the Sun Belt is expected Monday, sources said.
The addition of Marshall to the Sun Belt likely won’t be official for at least another week until the school names a new president.
On Friday afternoon, Patrick Farrell, the chair for Marshall’s Board of Governors, tweeted the school would name a new president next Thursday.
“We’re going to wait until the new president has a chance to provide input before making a decision about our athletics conference affiliation,” Farrell wrote in a tweet. “We’re confident we are in a great position.”
The addition of USM, ODU, JMU and Marshall will give the Sun Belt a 14-team football league in 2023.
East Division member Troy is expected to move to the West Division, along with Southern Miss. The remaining West Division schools are Arkansas State, Louisiana, South Alabama, Texas State and UL Monroe. New members Marshall, Old Dominion and James Madison will compete in the East Division with Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia State and Georgia Southern.
Last year, the Sun Belt was the only Group of Five league that finished with two football teams ranked in the Top 15 of the final Associated Press poll.
Non-football playing Sun Belt members Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas-Arlington will no longer be league members by the 2023 season, sources said.
Additions of Southern Miss, Marshall, ODU & James Madison Huge for Sun Belt
The addition of Southern Miss — plus Marshall, ODU and James Madison — is huge for the Sun Belt. Conference USA was hoping to keep Marshall and ODU and then add James Madison and independent Liberty for a 10-team league.
Those hopes were squashed Friday, putting C-USA’s long-term future in serious doubt.
Southern Miss was among Conference USA’s 11 original members when the league was formed in 1995. Of those 11 schools, the only other remaining current members are Charlotte and UAB. However, on Thursday, Charlotte and UAB were among six C-USA schools that announced they were leaving for the American.
The loss of Southern Miss — and expected defections of ODU and Marshall — are the latest devastating blows to Conference USA. In less than a week, the conference will have lost nine of its 14 members — three to the Sun Belt and six to the American.
Editors Note: Since this article was originally published on the evening of Oct. 22, 2021, the Sun Belt has officially accepted Old Dominion as a new member of the conference. Read more about ODU’s move from Conference USA to the Sun Belt here:
Conference USA Will be Down to 5 schools; Long-Term Future in Doubt
Conference USA — or at this rate, soon-to-be Conference DOA — will be left with five members: FIU, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, UTEP and Western Kentucky and must add new schools to remain an FBS conference.
Among the possible additions could be FBS independents Liberty, UConn, UMass and New Mexico State or any FCS programs that may move up to the FBS level.
Liberty Reconsiders, Likely to Remain Independent and Not Join C-USA
However, Liberty may not be as willing to join C-USA now, a source said. The Flames were once thought to be a top candidate for Conference USA but have some reservations about C-USA and likely will remain an independent, sources said.
Without Liberty, Conference USA could be hard-pressed to find enough new members to reach the required eight-school minimum needed to remain an FBS conference.
Ironically, three of the remaining C-USA members — FIU, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky — left the Sun Belt in 2013 to join C-USA.