Conference USA is pushing hard to find an eighth member that would satisfy NCAA requirements to stay in the FBS, sources told CBS Sports. Sources indicate it is "probable" the embattled league will lose both Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee to the MAC, perhaps as early as this week, leaving Conference USA with only three existing members.
FBS independents Liberty and New Mexico State plus FCS teams Sam Houston and Jacksonville State were all extended Conference USA invitations on Wednesday, sources confirmed to CBS Sports.
UConn and/or UMass have been mentioned among options for an eighth member, but for now, the league would have only seven members if it brings in the four other programs. UConn would only potentially join for football given its Big East ties in basketball and other sports.
The NCAA Manual states an FBS conference must be comprised of at least eight members that all sponsor a minimum of six men's and eight women's sports. The 14 sports must include football and men's and women's basketball.
A conference has a "grace period" of two years to retain FBS membership if it falls below eight members, the manual states. Conference USA is seemingly in that position now.
The NCAA also requires conferences to have a minimum of six members to qualify for an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Sources tell CBS Sports that Conference USA commissioner Judy MacLeod has received calls from up to 30 prospective members to fill that eighth spot. Her league has lost nearly all its membership (11 of 14 teams in total) to the American and Sun Belt conferences with the MAC dealing a late blow. This is all on the back of a realignment process that started when Texas and Oklahoma moved from the Big 12 to the SEC.
There has been some hesitancy on the part of at least one of the schools leaving for the MAC due to travel concerns, according to sources. As it stands, the MAC spans from Buffalo, New York, to DeKalb, Illinois -- a distance of more than 600 miles.
FIU, Louisiana Tech and UTEP would be the three remaining Conference USA schools. The additions of Sam Houston and New Mexico State would fit nicely with UTEP and Louisiana Tech, though FIU would surely have travel concerns.
Industry consultants speculated the 12-team MAC could have been motivated to expand with the hopes of increasing its TV media rights following expiration of its current ESPN deal after the 2026-27 season.
"That's very speculative," one of those industry sources said, "highly speculative."
According to the NCAA, any FCS school reclassifying to FBS must first receive a "bona fide invitation" from an FBS conference or one that "met the definition" of an FBS conference.
The next milestone may be January's NCAA Convention. In 2007, the NCAA put a four-year moratorium on FCS schools moving up to FBS. However it is doubtful in its current diminished state the NCAA would set a standard that could be legally challenged, and new legislation could be adopted.