Imagine a college football where conference realignment of the last few years never took place. The Sun Belt would still have Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, Conference USA would still have East Carolina and Memphis, and the American Athletic Conference would likely not even exist with the Big East staying around as a full sports conference.
Alas, conference realignment did occur with 28 of the 36 teams from the AAC, C-USA, and Sun Belt moving to a different conference in the last few seasons. Included are the multitude of FCS programs that made the jump to the FBS level like Georgia Southern, Charlotte, Appalachian State, and many more.
With recent word that the Sun Belt would be essentially kicking out Idaho and New Mexico State once their contracts with the conference run out, a whole new round of conference realignment seems to be kicking into gear.
Among the many rumors that have floated in recently is the rumor that the Big 12 finally wants to go to 12 teams in the conference. We even have a plan for the AAC absorbing the Big 12, as far fetched as it might seem.
The Southern Miss Golden Eagles are part of what is considered the trickle down effect of conference realignment. When conference "A" needs more teams, they raid conference "B." Conference "B" raids conference "C" and so on. Southern Miss is in conference "C" in this possibility.
Basically, what is going on is a waiting game to see if any teams from the AAC are invited to the Big 12. If the Big 12 invites two teams from the AAC to join the conference and bring it up to 12 teams, then the AAC is more than willing to stand put for the time being with a ten team conference.
If the AAC ends up with one team poached, they will not stand put and instead invite a team from another conference, most likely C-USA, to join as a full member.
The first scenario that involves an opening in the AAC is where Southern Miss would come into play as a possible addition.
Let's get the biggest common misconception out of the way first.
As good or bad at basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, or any other sport a team can be to the university, that does not factor into an invitation. It is nice that if the program has a well rounded athletics department with many title contending programs, but conference realignment is all about football.
I even made a graph to help everyone understand.
So what makes Southern Miss a good fit in the AAC?
Familiarity With AAC Members:
Southern Miss was one of the founding members of Conference USA. They, along with AAC members Cincinnati, South Florida, Memphis, Tulane, Houston, and East Carolina, were all together as part of C-USA starting in the mid to late 1990s.
Of the current AAC roster, the only teams that Southern Miss has not played in football are Temple and Connecticut. They have played Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, and Tulane more than 10 times. In addition, though it does not matter much concerning an invitation, Southern Miss is 122-62-2 all-time versus the current AAC roster.
A New Southern Location:
While Southern Miss would not bring the large media market that a UTSA, Charlotte, or Florida school would bring, they would add to the southern exposure of the conference. Currently, the AAC has only six programs that would be considered southern programs (USF, UCF, Houston, Memphis, Tulsa, SMU, Tulane).
Depending on which team would be lost to the Big 12, adding Southern Miss would keep the entire conference in a fairly even north/south ratio. They are not rewriting the geographical book, but the Golden Eagles would be bringing a new location to the conference.
TV Markets No Longer Matter:
The last round of conference realignment revolved constantly around TV markets. Programs like Florida International were desired solely for their TV market. It was quickly evident that unless that team has a rabid fanbase, the TV market really does not matter all that much. There are not that many rabid FIU fans in Miami with all of the other college football choice within the state alone.
So, Southern Miss is not looked down upon nearly as much for not being in a big TV market like Miami. It is nice to see the fervor of TV markets die down in this possible realignment.
The Right Athletic Director:
The athletic director at Southern Miss is Bill McGillis. What makes that important is his connection to AAC programs South Florida and Houston. He was the Executive Associate Athletic Director with the Bulls and the Senior Associate Athletic Director at Houston.
McGillis spent a total of ten years at the two schools establishing relationships with the administrations at both programs. Those relationships could come in handy with Southern Miss stating their case to the AAC.
Virtually No One Objects:
The Golden Eagles would bring in a resurgent football program, an athletics department willing to do what is needed to succeed, a rabid fanbase, and virtually no hate from the current members of the AAC.
The only program that might have an objection to Southern Miss is Memphis. The two had a heated rivalry for a while, but have not played in football since 2012. While Memphis might not be fully happy with Southern Miss being invited, it is doubtful that they or any other program would fight a Southern Miss invitation.
There are other choices like Marshall, UAB, one of the Florida programs, teams out west, or a team that has not been discussed ending up in the AAC, but everyone has to wait for the first domino to fall with the Big 12. If that domino falls and the AAC is looking, Southern Miss has to be an option.