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Conference USA attempts to stay viable, reportedly invites four schools to join league

Conference USA has lost 11 of its 14 teams to conference realignment, but hopes to add Liberty, New Mexico State, Sam Houston State and Jacksonville State

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South Dakota State cornerback Don Gardner, left, tries to tackle Sam Houston State quarterback Eric Schmid, right during the first half of the NCAA college FCS Football Championship in Frisco, Texas, Sunday, May 16, 2021.

Michael Ainsworth, AP

Conference USA isn’t going anywhere, at least not without a fight.

According to a report Wednesday from Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel, Conference USA has invited Liberty, New Mexico State, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State to join the league, the latest move in conference realignment.

Conference USA’s interest in the four schools, reported Monday by the Action Network’s Brett McMurphy, comes as a result of the league losing nine of 14 teams to other FBS conferences — six to the American Athletic Conference (AAC) and three to the Sun Belt Conference.

Additionally, according to multiple reports, Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State are expected to become the 10th and 11th schools to leave Conference USA, and they would become members of the Mid-American Conference (MAC).

Per McMurphy, Conference USA, which has publicly stated its intention to add schools, “wants to get to eight or nine members.” The additions of Liberty, NMSU, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State would go a long way to making that goal a reality (Conference USA members who aren’t leaving the league currently are FIU, Louisiana Tech and UTEP).

McMurphy reported that “there also remains a possibility that FBS independents UConn and UMass could join the league as football-only members.”

Liberty (Lynchburg, Virginia) and New Mexico State (Las Cruces) are FBS independents, while Jacksonville State (Jacksonville, Alabama) and Sam Houston State (Huntsville, Texas) compete at the FCS level.

Sam Houston State won the 2020 FCS national championship last spring and is currently the top-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Liberty would be the most significant addition, though.

“Liberty is the biggest addition for C-USA,” McMurphy wrote. “The Flames are 25-8 the past three years as an independent under coach Hugh Freeze. LU already has clinched its third consecutive bowl game and visits No. 15 Ole Miss (6-2) in what’s the biggest regular-season game in the Flames’ history. Last year, Liberty ranked as high as No. 17 in the Associated Press rankings.”

Entrance fees remain an issue, Thamel reported — Conference USA reportedly has an entrance fee of $2 million — but that is the last major issue standing between Conference USA and expansion.