Conference USA plucks two from Sun Belt
by From staff and wire reports, USA TODAY
Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic are headed to Conference USA as the dominos continue to fall in conference realignment.
The schools announced their moves at news conferences Thursday morning. They will take the place of Tulane and East Carolina, which on Tuesday announced moves to the Big East Conference in 2014. East Carolina’s move, however, is for football only.
“We are excited to announce these two schools will join Conference USA,” Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky said in a news release from the league. “Besides being tremendous institutions, this is a logical move for us. These schools fit well within our strategic plan to be a major market, two-division conference that is student-athlete and fan friendly. We know they will make great contributions to our bright future.”
Middle Tennessee, located in Murfreesboro, has been in the Sun Belt since 2001, when the league began sponsoring football. Florida Atlantic, in Boca Raton, has been a member since 2004. The C-USA release said the schools will join no later than July 1, 2014.
Two other current Sun Belt members, North Texas and Florida International, will join the C-USA lineup in 2013.
“We have worked at many levels to advance the quality of our athletics program, and this invitation recognizes the hard work and excellent results of our athletes, coaches and administrators,” said MTSU President Sidney McPhee at the school’s news conference announcing the move.
If the membership moves hold true, MTSU will be in a 14-member league when it enters C-USA. The other members: FAU, FIU, Charlotte, Marshall, UAB, Southern Miss, Tulsa, Texas-San Antonio, Rice, North Texas, Old Dominion, Texas-El Paso and Louisiana Tech.
The Sun Belt will add Texas State (currently in the Western Athletic Conference) and Georgia State (Colonial Athletic Association) to its lineup next year.
But the departures announced Thursday would leave the Sun Belt with eight football-playing members come 2014. Commissioner Karl Benson said the league has already been looking at potential replacements.
“There are several outstanding universities that have indicated interest in joining the SBC,” Benson said in a statement posted Thursday morning on the league’s website. “While we have conducted research on these universities … [For more on Conference USA plucks two from Sun Belt, click here.]