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Want to leave a conference early? Good luck with that

Three Conference USA schools expect to compete as members of the Sun Belt in 2022, but CUSA has different plans.

SHARE Want to leave a conference early? Good luck with that

Marshall running back Rasheen Ali (22) celebrates his touchdown with tight end Devin Miller (83) in the second half of the New Orleans Bowl NCAA football game against Louisiana-Lafayette in New Orleans, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021. Louisiana-Lafayette won 36-21.

Gerald Herbert, AP

With all of the conference realignment that occurred last fall, it was only a matter of time before schools attempted to leave their current conferences for the greener pastures agreed to sooner than originally agreed upon.

James Madison was officially the first school to make a move — the Dukes are transitioning from the FCS to FBS ranks this summer — but there was an expectation that Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Mississippi would follow soon afterward, leaving Conference USA for the Sun Belt.

Turns out it is not going to be that simple.

What happened?

  • Last Friday, Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Mississippi announced that they would be leaving C-USA in June, intending to join the Sun Belt.

  • Almost simultaneously, per Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger, C-USA released its 2022 football schedule, a schedule that includes all three schools.
  • According to Dellenger, the Sun Belt has already incorporated its four new programs — James Madison, Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Mississippi — into its 2022 schedule, expected to be released March 1.
  • In an email announcing the 2022 schedule, C-USA stated, “The conference office is pleased to deliver you the final version of your 2022 football schedule. The attached schedule is consistent with C-USA scheduling policies. The conference office consulted all institutions as to special scheduling needs and the result is a balanced schedule with these requests incorporated into the final model.”
  • One C-USA athletic director told Sports Illustrated: “The schedule says we are supposed to play at USM this fall. What now?”

What’s next?

  • In response to the announcements by Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Mississippi, C-USA released a statement: “There is major realignment happening across the collegiate athletics landscape. All conferences and their members have agreed upon bylaws and contractual obligations for when transition occurs. We have chosen not to engage publicly, but have communicated with our member institutions and expect them to meet those obligations.”
  • Conference USA bylaws require schools give the conference 14-months notice before exiting.
  • Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Mississippi announced their intentions to join the Sun Belt last November.
  • Per Dellenger, C-USA plans to hold all three schools to their contractual obligations, meaning any early departure would necessitate a legal battle.