The latest rebuilding of the American Athletic Conference leaves Conference USA in a precarious position.
Six Conference USA schools – UAB, UTSA, Rice, North Texas, Charlotte and Florida Atlantic – have applied to become members of the American and are expected to be accepted by the end of the week, according to two people familiar with the process that s ‘interview with The Associated Press.
An announcement could be made as early as Thursday. People spoke to AP on condition of anonymity on Wednesday because the league was not yet ready to release its expansion plans.
The reshuffle is part of the fallout from the latest round of conference realignment that began this summer when Oklahoma and Texas decided to lock down the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. The ripple effects are now being felt across the country.
The American was on the hunt for new members after three of its top performing schools – Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida – announced in September that they would join the Big 12.
Those moves are expected by the 2023 football season, and the American hopes to have his six new members in place when the starting schools leave.
The result would be a 14-team conference, with four schools in Texas – the three new members and SMU.
C-USA was a frequent target when the American, formerly the Grand Est, had to reconstitute itself. Once the final realignment moves are complete, 12 of the 14 US members will be former C-USA schools.
Earlier this month, C-USA Commissioner Judy McLeod sent a letter to AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco proposing some sort of merger between the two conferences to make each more geographically fit for its members. . The AAC had no interest and went on the offensive instead.
Conference USA will be reduced to eight members – Old Dominion, UTEP, Southern Mississippi, Marshall, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Florida International and Western Kentucky – with an uncertain future.
In the past, Conference USA has poached the Sun Belt Conference when it needed replacement schools. Middle Tennessee, FIU, and Western Kentucky were all members of the Sun Belt.
But the Sun Belt is now in a strong position compared to C-USA.
“I don’t see any Sun Belt schools leaving,” said former Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters.
This time it could be the poaching of Sun Belt C-USA.
“Throughout this process, if we identify a school that adds value to the Sun Belt, we will definitely consider them as a member,” Sun Belt Commissioner Keith Gill said in September.
Marshall, in Huntington, West Virginia, is said to be a natural geographic rival among the Sun Belt 10-team football conference with Appalachian State, based in Boon, North Carolina.
Southern Miss could fit between Sun Belt South Alabama and Troy schools in the east and Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe in the west.
Who could C-USA turn to?
“There comes a time when there are no more options,” said former Sun Belt and Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson.
Liberty, a private school in Lynchburg, Va., Has expressed interest in joining a conference that could host its currently independent FBS football team. He has invested heavily in athletics and the Flames have participated in pétanque matches for the past two seasons. Liberty’s other sports programs compete under the Atlantic sun.
C-USA could look to FCS programs looking to move from the second tier of Division I college football to its highest tier, the Bowl Subdivision.
When Benson tried to save WAC football in the early 2010s, he couldn’t persuade some of the West’s strongest FCS programs, such as Montana and the State of Montana, to take the plunge.
When he became Sun Belt Commissioner in 2012, he found FCS schools in the area more eager to jump and they helped strengthen the conference. No. 15 Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State have become two of the Sun Belt’s best programs since the transition.
“Without commending myself, I think the Sun Belt has done a pretty good job of identifying the benefits of App and Coastal and even Georgia Southern,” Benson said.
FCS James Madison’s power plant in Harrisonburg, Virginia has shown some interest in going up and could also be a potential solution for C-USA, if not a target for the Sun Belt.
The Americans have targeted schools based on large media markets and fertile recruiting territory for football.
UAB has been C-USA’s most consistent winner in recent seasons, playing three straight league games and winning two. FAU won the Conference USA titles in 2017 and ’19 under then-coach Lane Kiffin. North Texas played for a C-USA title in 2017.
UTSA is a relatively new major college football program. The Roadrunners’ first season was 2011, but they have already played two bowl games and are currently undefeated and ranked No.24 in the AP poll.
Charlotte is also a newcomer to the highest level of Division I football, having joined in 2013.
Rice, a private school in Houston, has the longest history of major college football competition among the six schools heading to America. Owls were once a member of the Southwestern Conference with schools such as Texas and Arkansas.
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