Southern Miss, Marshall and Old Dominion plan to leave Conference USA a year early on June 30 with the target to reportedly enter the Sun Belt Conference in time for the 2022 athletic season. The schools — who announced their intentions to join the Sun Belt no later than June 2023 last year, along with James Madison of the FCS set to start in 2022 — released similar statements at 3 p.m. ET on Friday announcing the decision.
While the three institutions made their intentions known to Conference USA in the preceding months, however, the league has reportedly resisted the schools’ attempt to subvert conference bylaws. Conference USA Bylaws state that the institutions are required to give 14 months of advance notice and pay two years of conference distribution to depart, according to Extra Points’ Matt Brown. Conference schools received about $200,000 a year in 2016-17 after realignment, according to the Pilot Online.
“The University first advised Conference USA in early December 2021 of the University’s plans to terminate its membership in June 2022,” Southern Miss said in a statement. “Since then, the University has clearly and consistently repeated its intentions to the conference.
“The University has from the outset expressed its desire to work with Conference USA to achieve an amicable separation, including offering to cooperate to ensure that all remaining conference members had complete competitive schedules for those sports in which the University competes. Conference USA has so far refused to discuss any such arrangement with the University.”
Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger reports that as the three schools released their statements, the conference office sent a finalized version of the 2022 football schedule to its member institutions. Southern Miss, Marshall and Old Dominion were included on the slate despite their insistence that they will not stick around.
Ultimately, the two sides could find themselves in a legal battle as the three departing institutions appear ready to breach the contract. If Southern Miss, Marshall and Old Dominion leave, C-USA drops to just 11 football-playing members ahead of the 2022 season.
The future Sun Belt schools only represent one wing of the tumultuous future of Conference USA. Six other schools are leaving Conference USA for the American Athletic Conference: UTSA, Rice, North Texas, Charlotte, FAU and UAB. The schools are expected to begin play for the AAC in the 2023 season. In addition to the three C-USA schools, the Sun Belt is also adding FCS James Madison in time for the 2022 season.
Conversely, Conference USA is set to add four new schools before the 2023 season. Liberty and New Mexico State are independents set to join the league, while Jacksonville State and Sam Houston will transition up from the FCS level.