Southern Miss joining the Sun Belt Conference

Published 7:00 pm Tuesday, October 26, 2021

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The Sun Belt Conference announced the addition of Southern Mississippi University on Tuesday afternoon.

USM becomes the conference’s 13th program, 11 of which are football-playing members. After a unanimous vote by the conference CEOs, USM will be full-time members no later than July 1, 2023.

“When national realignment discussions began our goal was to only add a school if it added value to our conference,” Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Keith Gill said. “Southern Mississippi certainly does that. Hattiesburg perfectly fits into the Sun Belt footprint, which expands from the Carolinas to Texas. Plus, Southern Mississippi mirrors our conference’s athletic and academic missions.

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“We are thrilled to have them join the Sun Belt Conference. The Sun Belt Conference has strengths to celebrate, and today we are that much stronger with the addition of Southern Mississippi.”

Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, has won five NCAA national championships – two in Division II football in 1958 and 1962 and three more in individual track and field. The USM football program has appeared in 26 bowl games all-time. The men’s basketball team won the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) in 1987, the softball team appeared in the College World Series in back-to-back seasons in 1999 and 2000 and the baseball team advanced to the College World Series in 2009.

“Membership in the Sun Belt is an exciting opportunity,” USM President Rodney D. Bennett said. “It’s an exciting opportunity for our university, an exciting opportunity for our student athletes, an exciting opportunity for our alumni and fans and an exciting opportunity for the university’s host communities. I believe without a doubt that this move will allow our student athletes to compete in what is fast becoming the best Group of Five conference in the country.

The Golden Eagles sponsor 17 varsity sports. Men’s sports include baseball, basketball, football, golf, indoor track & field, outdoor track & field and tennis. Women’s sports include basketball, beach volleyball, cross country, golf, indoor track & field, outdoor track & field, soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball.

Southern Miss participates in every sport sponsored by the SBC, except men’s cross country. The SBC sponsors every sport in which the Golden Eagles compete in except beach volleyball.

“Today is a great day for Southern Miss,” said Jeremy McClain, Southern Miss Director of Athletics. “We are extremely excited to become members of the Sun Belt Conference. This move allows us to join what I believe is the most competitive Group of Five conference in the country. We are going to be able to create regional rivalries and reduce travel for our student athletes. We are also going to be able to allow our fans to travel. We have a very passionate fan base and they are going to have opportunities to help fill up stadiums throughout the Sun Belt and I’m very excited about that for them and for our student athletes.”

McClain, before becoming AD at Southern Miss was the Director of Athletics at Troy. During his time at Troy, McClain had a front row seat to watch the growth of the Sun Belt Conference.

“I was able to watch this league grow during my time at Troy,” McClain said. “I probably have a unique perspective in this case where I was in the league for four years and I was able to watch the Sun Belt make really good decisions over the course of the past decade and really grow into one of the best Group of Five conferences in the country.”