Southern Miss officially announces move to Sun Belt Conference

Published 4:59 pm Tuesday, October 26, 2021

NEW ORLEANS — Southern Miss has officially became the latest school to partake in the conference realignment trend sweeping across the college sports landscape.

The Sun Belt Conference announced Tuesday that Southern Miss has been added to the league after a vote of the Sun Belt CEOs. The move will take effect July 1, 2023.

“This move allows us to join what I believe is one of the best Group of Five conferences in the country,” Southern Miss Director of Athletics Jeremy McClain said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “It creates regional rivalries and reduces travel. It gives us greater exposure for our programs.”

McClain said Southern Miss will have to pay two years’ worth of revenue distribution to exit Conference USA — an estimated $3 million — but that the university “has a plan for that.”

He also said some of the lost revenue will be recouped in other ways, such as lower travel costs and travel time.

“It’s a big impact on the financial side, as well as the well-being of our student-athletes,” McClain said.

Southern Miss has been a part of Conference USA since its inception in 1995, but moved to the Sun Belt when C-USA effectively disintegrated last week. Six C-USA members announced they were leaving for the American Athletic Conference, and two others — Marshall and Old Dominion — are reportedly set to join the Sun Belt this week alongside Southern Miss.

McClain said discussions about joining the Sun Belt “moved quickly” over the past couple of weeks as several other schools shifted leagues. The Sun Belt and Conference USA are only two of a half-dozen Division I conferences that have announced membership changes since this summer.

With the big changes in Conference USA last week, McClain said it made USM’s path clearer.

“It was just another piece of the puzzle,” McClain said. “It was, ‘Hey, here’s the decision these people made, and now we’re in a position to make a decision ourselves.”

Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill welcomed Southern Miss as the league’s 13th member by saying the university fit the league’s profile athletically, academically and geographically.

“I think we got better,” Gill said. “The first thing we wanted to do when we started this was maintain our core group. Then, would the folks we associate with make us better? We had a strong lineup, and now we’re getting stronger.”

The other Sun Belt members are Appalachian State, Little Rock, Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama, Texas-Arlington, Texas State and Troy.

Little Rock and Texas-Arlington do not play football.

The Sun Belt sponsors every sport in which Southern Miss competes except beach volleyball.

“The Sun Belt’s geographic footprint will create new regional rivalries and will encourage more visitors to Mississippi, further increasing our athletics programs’ $41 million annual economic impact on the state,” Southern Miss President Rodney D. Bennett said in a statement.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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