Last week, the news broke that Southern Mississippi was leaving the Conference-USA (C-USA). This, of course, was following the announcement that the American Athletic Conference (AAC) made the week prior that six former C-USA teams would be joining their conference. Now, two more C-USA schools are bolting for the greener pastures of the Sun Belt, crippling the conference to just five remaining schools.

The new lineup of Sun Belt schools look like this;

  • Appalachian State
  • Arkansas State
  • Coastal Carolina
  • Georgia Southern
  • Georgia State
  • Louisiana
  • Marshall
  • Old Dominion
  • South Alabama
  • Southern Mississippi
  • Texas State
  • Troy
  • ULM

Marshall weighed it’s options heavily

The Marshall athletic department had several decisions that it could have made with its conference allegiance. The new Marshall school president, Brad Smith, met with the Board of Governors and discussed four proposals.

The first proposal was to stay in the C-USA. This choice is one of caution and patience. The C-USA is in shambles right now, down from fourteen to five schools (six at the time of Marshall’s meeting), while in talks with three independent schools about joining the conference. There is a lot of uncertainty about the conference, and it doesn’t look like a great option.

The second proposal was to go back to the Mid American Conference (MAC), where Marshall had played prior, from 1997-2004. They had seen great success, but the conference right now has a lot of downgrading factors. When “MACtion” starts, teams play on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights for the National television exposure.

Then, they could go independent. Several schools had done it recently, leaving their conference before, but no one has seen much success doing so recently.

Or, they could join the Sun Belt.

The advantages that the Sun Belt brings to Marshall and Old Dominion

The Sun Belt has been a conference on the rise in the group-of-five conferences in college football. Three schools have been ranked in the final AP Top 25 poll in Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, and Louisiana in the last two years, respectively. Currently, two to three schools could be ranked on the AP Top 25 poll at the end of this season.

YearSun Belt AVG (High)C-USA AVG (High)MarshallOld Dominion
2021131.99 (Louisiana 163.32)122.41 (North Texas 157.24)114.87135.73
2020131.57 (Louisiana 158.34)151.82 (Florida Atlantic 166.46)149.23147.63
2019134.87 (Louisiana 158.58)149.09 (Florida Atlantic 178.99)165.43128.31
2018129.75 (Arkansas State 147.72)140.21 (FIU 173.58)165.85108.27
2017111.00 (Texas State 127.89)125.63 (Florida Atlantic 171.18)132.8499.41
All recruiting rankings are per 247Sports Composite.

Marshall and Old Dominion both have the talent to compete in the Sun Belt currently. By using the 247Sports Composite recruiting class rankings over the last five seasons, it’s pretty clear that they can certainly both compete with the average talent stacked in the conference. Old Dominion has become much better about recruiting over the last few years as well.

I won’t touch on the topic again, but television contracts play a considerable part in these schools’ decisions. The Sun Belt offers an ESPN slate, which is widely available through several different means. The C-USA offers CBS Sports Network and Stadium, which aren’t available on several streaming platforms. Even with the purchase of CBS’s new Paramount+ package, I recently discovered, the CBS Sports Network is not included while CBS and several other live channels are.

Overall, what this means for Group of Five football moving forward

The moving may not yet be over. With the Sun Belt now at thirteen football schools, I think it would be strategic for them to make one more addition, a fourteenth football school. As of now, by consulting the map, it’s clear to see that two states could be targetted currently unrepresented in the conference.

To me, Florida would be the obvious choice. Florida is an incredible football-rich state, loaded to the brim with talent. To tap further into that market of schools would be a massive addition to the conference and could help make the Sun Belt a more vital conference as a whole. Choosing a school out of Florida is the equation at this point. If the Sun Belt continues to raid the C-USA, Florida International makes a lot of sense. If the Sun Belt wanted to dip into FCS territory, somewhat unlikely, perhaps Bethune-Cookman or Florida A&M would make sense, too, as long as the Sun Belt didn’t want to expand on its soccer leagues.

If Florida isn’t on the board, then Tennessee would be an excellent state to target as well, with MTSU sitting perfectly in grasp. The problem with MTSU is how the school left the Sun Belt almost ten years ago, burning bridges on the way out. Outside of MTSU, there doesn’t appear to be a good school in Tennessee looking for a way into the FBS, perhaps with the exception being UT-Chattanooga.

Rumors point to Virginia, as James Madison is now expected to begin exploring a jump to the FBS level. Reportedly, the Sun Belt and James Madison share mutual interests.

There are changes still to be had, and we will be covering them here on NFL Sapient.

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By John Vogel

NFL Draft Analyst. Dad.

One thought on “Marshall, Old Dominion Pack Bags for Sun Belt Conference”
  1. […] It has been a tough couple of weeks for the long-standing group-of-five conference, founded in 1996. First, the announcement came that six schools would part with the conference to join the American Athletic Conference (AAC), replacing the three schools that recently announced their departure for the Big 12. In the following two weeks, Southern Mississippi first announced their departure for the Sun Belt conference, quickly followed by Old Dominion and Marshall. […]

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