For the past few months, Conference USA has been having a stare down with three of its current members: Old Dominion, Marshall and Southern Miss.
The three schools announced last fall they would be departing for the Sun Belt Conference. This came about the same time that UAB, Rice, UTSA, North Texas, FAU and Charlotte announced they would be joining the AAC.
That’s fine. Those schools have that right.
However, C-USA bylaws state any member who departs for another league has to give the conference at least a 14-month lead time.
Thus, those nine programs would be obligated to Conference USA through the 2022-23 athletic seasons.
Not so fast my friend.
Shortly after the announcement, speculation and “noise” began to come out of those three camps (USM, ODU and Marshall) about their desire to join the Sun Belt this July.
In fact, not only did those three schools make the announcement that they would, Marshall filed a lawsuit against Conference USA after the league stated they would hold the schools to the bylaws of the contract each signed when becoming a member.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Cabell County Circuit Court in Huntington, West Virginia, was seeking jurisdiction in West Virginia and aims to avoid arbitration. In mid-February, Conference USA filed a demand for arbitration against Marshall, seeking to compel the university to arbitrate its dispute with the league in Dallas.
This came just days after Conference USA released its 2022 football schedule, which included all three schools, and pledged to “exhaust all necessary legal actions” to ensure the outgoing members would participate this fall.
The Sun Belt promptly released its football for this fall which also included Southern Miss, Marshall and ODU.
It’s been a stare down that reached the courts.
Who was going to blink first?
Well late Tuesday afternoon, Conference USA sent out a statement on its social media platforms:
“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. 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.”
So, starting July 1, 2022, Conference USA will become an 11-member league for the 2022-23 season before then becoming a nine-member league on July 1, 2023.
North Texas, UTSA, FAU, Charlotte, Rice and UAB will depart for the AAC following June 30, 2023 (following the league’s bylaws). Liberty, Sam Houston State, Jacksonville State and New Mexico State will join LA Tech, WKU, Middle Tennessee, UTEP and FIU on July 1, 2023 to form the new C-USA.
Welcome to the landscape of college athletics these days.
The biggest question that remains is what are the penalties for Southern Miss, ODU and Marshall leaving early? There has to be some financial ramifications, right?
The league’s statement is ambiguous at best.
Following the release of the statement yesterday, social media was full of comments from fans of all 14 schools (and others) who were taking jabs at each other and at the league.
And one of the most frequently asked questions?
What about the Conference USA baseball championship which is supposed to be hosted by Southern Miss in Hattiesburg in May. Is the league going to allow a school that is not only departing, but one that is openly breaking the league’s bylaws to host such an important championship and get home-field advantage?