Conference USA has lost half of its teams in the span of a week.
According to Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel, Southern Miss is the latest school to leave the conference. The Eagles are heading to the Sun Belt, days after much of Conference USA's membership was added into the American Athletic Conference.
Sources: Southern Miss has finalized an agreement to join the Sun Belt. The school officially accepted the Sun Belt’s offer today. Don’t expect an official announcement until next week.
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) October 22, 2021
Southern Miss' move means that Conference USA has lost seven members this week. That number could grow if Marshall and Old Dominion leave as well. If they do, Conference USA is really going to have to scramble to find teams to join.
At the moment, the conference has: UTEP, Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee and Florida International as members going forward in addition to Marshall and Old Dominion. If the latter two leave, Conference USA will be one team short of the six-team minimum needed to survive as a football conference at the top level of college football.
The AAC moved to add the six teams from Conference USA after it lost UCF, Cincinnati and Houston to the Big 12. The Big 12 added those three schools (and BYU) after Oklahoma and Texas left for the SEC. Yes, we could be approaching the point where a move by UT and OU led to the downfall of Conference USA.
Conference USA's turnover
Conference USA was first formed in 1995 via a merger of the Metro Conference and Great Midwest Conference. It has long been a steppingstone conference. Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, Marquette, Houston, TCU and others were once members of a league that has seen 14 teams join and leave in its 36 years of existence.
The conference was raided by the American in 2013 and 2014 too. The AAC took Tulane, Houston, East Carolina, UCF, SMU and Tulsa over those two seasons, leaving just two teams original to the conference and just three others who had been around since 2005.
After UAB’s move to the AAC earlier in the week, Southern Miss was the lone remaining original member of the conference. And you can see why it sought greener pastures.
Conference USA has a hodgepodge television contract. Unlike most conferences in college football that have major deals with ESPN and Fox, ESPN carries a select few Conference USA football games. The Sun Belt, meanwhile, has a deal with ESPN that puts most of the conference’s games on ESPN Plus.
The Sun Belt has also surpassed Conference USA in football quality in recent years. Coastal Carolina went undefeated in 2020 and Louisiana has become a very good non-Power Five team. Throw in perennial contender Appalachian State and there’s no question that the Sun Belt has become a better football conference.