Southern Miss, Marshall and Old Dominion have reached an agreement with Conference USA to be let out of their contract early to move to the Sun Belt Conference in time for the 2022 athletic season.
"We are delighted to welcome Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss as full members of the Sun Belt Conference on July 1, 2022. With the addition of James Madison, the Sun Belt will increase to 14 member institutions with passionate fan bases," said Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill in a statement. "This expansion will produce even stronger regional rivalries – something we're very much looking forward to this fall. Our future is bright, and the 2022-23 academic year promises to be one of the most anticipated in Sun Belt history."
The agreement closes a testy chapter for the schools with their soon-to-be former conference, during which Marshall sued Conference USA in order to be let out of their contract. Conference USA bylaws state that schools are required to give 14 months of advance notice and pay two years of conference distribution to depart.
"Conference USA, Marshall University, Old Dominion University and the University of Southern Mississippi have reached a resolution that allows the schools to withdraw as members at the end of the academic year," the four said in a combined statement. "Conference USA will move forward into the 2022-23 academic year with 11 members. The University will compete as members of the Sun Belt Conference."
The three schools announced in January that they intended to leave the conference early, despite the bylaws. Conference USA responded with a statement that it expected the members to follow their contractual obligations before leaving after the 2022-23 school year and would exhaust legal avenues. Things got tense after Conference USA and the Sun Belt both released football schedules for 2022 that featured the three schools. With the resolution, Conference USA is expected to release a revised schedule.
Southern Miss, Marshall and Old Dominion's departure is part of a wide-ranging reshuffling in the Group of Five. In addition to the Sun Belt expansion, which also includes FCS James Madison transitioning up, six former Conference USA institutions are joining the American Athletic Conference in 2023. To counter, C-USA will add Liberty and New Mexico State as FBS members, along with Jacksonville State and Sam Houston as FBS transitional members.