Southern Miss officially joins Sun Belt Conference
Southern Miss to the Sun Belt is officially a done deal. The two sides announced USM’s addition to the league after a 26-year stay in Conference USA.
“When you think about the process, it really did start when we all looked at our phones and saw that Texas and Oklahoma were going to the SEC.”
Southern Miss AD Jeremy McClain said, “So, I remember this moment very vividly because it was the one week of vacation I get during the year, and I was trying to go to the beach, Dr. Bennett, one morning, and it broke.”
A Conference USA charter member in 1995, Southern Miss to the Sun Belt didn’t happen overnight, but after a week in the sun and two-and-a-half decades in the geographically challenged C-USA, USM didn’t need all that long to pull off its feast or famine move to greener pastures. “There are conversations that begin to happen right off the bat of hey, what does this mean for all of us? And what is this domino effect?”
Texas and Oklahoma might’ve been the first dominoes to fall, but they certainly weren’t the last. In the past two weeks alone, the American Athletic Conference picked off six other members from C-USA, leaving Southern Miss AD Jeremy McClain and company with a choice. “Unfortunately, I think in this type of situation, some people are going to end up in really good spots and some people are not and that’s difficult. But at the same time, our focus has been on Southern Miss and trying to get us to the best place possible.”
As first reported by the Action Network, Southern Miss accepted the Sun Belt’s invitation on Friday, paving the way for USM’s official membership to start no later than July 1st, 2023. Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Keith Gill said, “We were really excited with who they are, as they look right now, their ability to compete right now, their ability to have really successful programs, who they are as an institution and obviously, the passionate fan base. So, the question that we asked ourselves is, ‘of the folks that we can associate with, who could make us better?’ And like I said, we got better today.”
The Sun Belt will continue to get better with the league reportedly set to add fellow C-USA schools Marshall and Old Dominion as well as FCS James Madison to form an awfully impressive 14-team league in the Group of Five. “I’m careful about things, and I’m kind of always looking for a landmine and an issue that could create some real challenges for us. The thing here that I’ve been blown away with is that we couldn’t find that. And for me, that was just kind of affirmation that this was exactly what we needed to do.”
The major consequence in all of this, conference bylaws costing USM two years of distribution, estimated to be about $3 million in exit fees.
But the pros appear to far outweigh the cons with Southern Miss saving up to half-a-million dollars per year on travel and the Sun Belt’s contract with ESPN running through 2031.
Tack on the added benefit of expanding regional rivalries, SMTTT has a nice ring in the SBC. USM President Dr. Rodney Bennett said, “I believe that Golden Eagles everywhere will join us in turning the page, and in being a part of writing the next new chapter in our Southern Miss story.”
“It’s a great day for the Sun Belt. It’s a great day for Southern Mississippi. We welcome all of you to the Sun Belt Conference. Go Golden Eagles, and we’re looking forward to having you in our family.”
Some questions still unanswered such as where will USM’s beach volleyball program compete without the Sun Belt sponsoring that particular sport and will Southern Miss still be able to host the 2022 Conference USA Baseball Tournament at Pete Taylor Park?