Conference USA announced the addition of four new members on Friday, adding Liberty, New Mexico State, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston to help stabilize the league amid the latest wave of conference realignment. The addition of the four new schools, who will join the league on July 1, 2023, follows a chaotic shift in the conference structure that left the league with just five members with more realignment imminent.
"We are incredibly excited about adding these four new members and feel there is tremendous upside in these moves for our conference," Conference USA commissioner Judy MacLeod said in a release. "This is a quality mix of established and emerging universities that provides us with a compelling group to continue to build with, focusing on competing for and winning championships well into the future. We have been deliberate in our efforts for the past few weeks to get us to this point and will continue to evaluate and consider our additional options for membership."
Charlotte, FAU, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UTSA are each leaving Conference USA for the AAC, while Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss are moving to the Sun Belt. It is also "probable" that the beleaguered conference will lose Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee to the MAC, sources told CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd.
If the Hilltoppers and Blue Raiders depart, the league's total would stand at seven members, with existing members FIU, Louisiana Tech and UTEP combining with the four new members. In that scenario, Conference USA would still need at least one more addition over the next two years to reach the NCAA-mandated minimum of eight schools for FBS leagues. Liberty and New Mexico State are each independent in football, while Jacksonville State and Sam Houston compete at the FCS level.
Conference USA isn't the only Group of Five conference undergoing changes, as the Sun Belt is on track for an expansion from 10 to 14 members. In addition to the previously-announced additions of Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss, the Sun Belt is also adding FCS power James Madison after the school received state approval in Virginia on Friday to make the move.
"We are thrilled to welcome James Madison University to the Sun Belt Conference," said Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill. "This move brings another strong brand and passionate fanbase into the Sun Belt and elevates the Dukes' storied football program to the highest level of NCAA competition. I am grateful to JMU President Jonathan Alger and Athletics Director Jeff Bourne for their leadership during this process and look forward to working closely with them moving forward."
James Madison currently competes in the Colonial Athletic Association, a league which is making the school pay for its decision to jump by barring it from competing for conference championships until its transition to the Sun Belt is complete in accordance with league bylaws. However, the Washington Post reported that the JMU football team could still compete for a league title and automatic FCS playoff bid since football in the CAA is governed by different bylaws.