After months of speculation, Conference USA has reached an agreement that will allow Southern Miss, Old Dominion and Marshall to exit the league — paving the way for all three to join the Sun Belt Conference.
In a statement released Tuesday evening, the conference announced that the three members, who each had been seeking early exits from their contracts to join the SBC, would be clear to do so after reaching an unspecified financial agreement.
“Conference USA, Marshall University, Old Dominion University, and the University of Southern Mississippi have reached a resolution that allows the schools to withdraw as members at the end of the academic year,” the statement reads in part. “Conference USA will move forward into the 2022-23 academic year with 11 members. The Universities will compete as members of the Sun Belt Conference.”
The first order of business for C-USA will be to reconstruct a previously released schedule by the conference that included the three members now set to join the SBC.
A source with knowledge of the situation stated to UDD that the expectation is that C-USA will adopt a model similar to the American Athletic Conference’s schedule — as the AAC currently competes with 11 teams.
“Filling eight conference football games with 11 teams, there’s plenty of formulas for that — it could be a situation where team X has to play a few weeks without an open date or a team has to play at an opponent that they played the year prior,” said the source.
The move puts to rest the ongoing legal battle between the schools and the league surrounding exit fees and the universities desire to bypass certain language in the contract between the parties.
In early February, the three universities all released statements on the same day, declaring their intention to leave C-USA no later than June 30, 2022 — an expedited mark from the July 1, 2023 timeline that was announced by the programs in October, when the schools originally announced their intentions to leave for the Sun Belt Conference.
Marshall University went as far as to request a temporary restraining order against Conference USA after the league filed a request for arbitration in the school’s bid to expedite an early move to the Sun Belt. The order was granted by Cabell County (West Virginia) Judge Christopher D. Chiles — allowing the court more time to review the case.
With the three programs now in the clear to join the Sun Belt in time for the 2022 football season, Conference USA has made its intentions clear that they will compete with the 11 remaining members.
“Conference USA is excited about the future with our 11 institutions in the 2022-23 academic year, and is committed to the long-term growth of the league as we usher in new members in the coming years,” said the league in part. “As we begin this new era of Conference USA, our focus remains on providing the best possible experiences for our student-athletes while engaging in the broader national conversation and process around changing the overall model. The landscape of college athletics has shifted expansively and we will continue to be a substantial part of that evolution.”