The Sun Belt Conference is looking to add another school to its ranks, per Yahoo! Sports. Southern Miss is looking to join from the ranks of the Conference USA, who just this week lost six schools officially to the American Athletic Conference.
Located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Southern Miss has mostly sat around the middle of the pack in the C-USA and is looking to compete for more nationally known recruits. They have been a member of the conference since 1996, winning the conference title in 1996, 1997, 1999, 2003, and 2011.
The Sun Belt Conference has slowly crept past the C-USA in football and other sports as of recent history. The rise of Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina have certainly helped the prestige of the conference. With the addition of Southern Miss, the conference would gain another partner with a larger athletic budget, estimated at around $25.3M. The conference would be:
- Appalachian State
- Arkansas State
- Coastal Carolina
- Georgia State
- Georgia Southern
- South Alabama
- Southern Mississippi
- Texas State
What the Sun Belt upgrades for Southern Miss over the C-USA
Currently, the Sun Belt hosts ten football members. By adding Southern Miss, I believe that the conference would look to add another football member to retain the balance of their Eastern and Western divisions. Perhaps a school like Florida International or Jacksonville State would fit the billing well.
The Sun Belt also has a television contract locked in with ESPN through the 2030-31 seasons. The multi-year extension with ESPN was announced in July of 2021 and featured a 50% rise in the conference’s previous games slated on ESPN’s linear stations (ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU). Seven of the conferences games surpassed one million viewers in 2020. The conference championship game will now also be featured on either ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2.
The C-USA currently holds a television contract with CBS Sports and Stadium, two stations that limit the conference’s national audience and can be difficult to find on some networks. With internet streaming becoming more popular, CBS Sports Network is a dying product.
It’s easier to build a program in the Sun Belt
The television revenue with ESPN, who has invested heavily in their college football broadcasts, is a significant upgrade over CBS Sports and Stadium. We’ve seen a noticeable incline in the recruiting rankings as of recent memory as well, while the C-USA tanked in 2021.
|Year||Sun Belt AVG (High)||C-USA AVG (High)||Southern Miss|
|2021||131.99 (Louisiana 163.32)||122.41 (North Texas 157.24)||111.04|
|2020||131.57 (Louisiana 158.34)||151.82 (Florida Atlantic 166.46)||162.20|
|2019||134.87 (Louisiana 158.58)||149.09 (Florida Atlantic 178.99)||156.39|
|2018||129.75 (Arkansas State 147.72)||140.21 (FIU 173.58)||157.89|
|2017||111.00 (Texas State 127.89)||125.63 (Florida Atlantic 171.18)||152.71|
As you can see, Southern Miss would have the highest-ranked recruiting class in the Sun Belt three times over the last five years. Recruiting rankings certainly don’t indicate high-level success by themselves, but knowing the caliber of talent translates better to the Sun Belt would be a bonus for the Golden Eagles and the Sun Belt.
If you also look at the recent history of AP Top 25 rankings between the two conferences, there is a difference. The C-USA hasn’t seen one of its schools ranked in the final AP Top 25 poll since 2015, when Western Kentucky was ranked after a 12-2 season and a Boca Raton Bowl win over Memphis, 51-31. They haven’t compiled a winning bowl season record since 2018, including an 0-6 performance in 2020.
The Sun Belt, on the other hand, has seen three schools ranked in the final Top 25 rankings (Coastal Carolina and Louisiana in 2020, Appalachian State in 2019) in the last two years. They have also compiled a winning bowl season record in every season since 2016. I believe it’s not a stretch to think that three could be ranked at the end of this year. The competition has simply been better.
The conference switch makes sense for Southern Miss
The six schools who just declared their loyalty to the AAC were a crippling blow to the C-USA. Without reaching into the lower levels of football, as they have done in recent memory pulling Old Dominion and Charlotte recently, their only hope was to lure schools from the Sun Belt. Unfortunately for the C-USA, the Sun Belt is pulling schools from them.
For Southern Miss, it’s about finding their championship ways again on the gridiron. Football is by far the most profitable sport in college athletics and a successful program is the best way to make money. They see the writing on the wall for their former conference and it doesn’t look good. It makes sense to go here for the recruiting, program building, and television contract.
There will be more movement to come and we will have the complete coverage on NFL Sapient.