Sun Belt Conference officially welcomes new members

Published 1:50 pm Friday, July 1, 2022

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July 1 marked the official start of the Sun Belt Conference’s expansion with James Madison, Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss joining the conference.

The official begin of the “new” Sun Belt marks the culmination of months of rumors, threats and drama that surrounded the decision for the four schools to jump to the Sun Belt. In 2021, three of the four schools announced they would be entering the conference following the 2022-2023 athletic seasons, while James Madison planned to join in July from the beginning.

Things changed, however, as Southern Miss, Old Dominion and Marshall informed Conference-USA that they intended to also join the Sun Belt by July 1. The C-USA refused to accept the schools’ departure and even released conference schedules for the 2022 football season including the three schools. Marshall University then filed a lawsuit against the C-USA with the conference shortly thereafter agreeing to allow the schools depart for the Sun Belt early. In order to leave the C-USA early, the schools agreed to pay the conference $2 million for the early departure.

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Marshall, Old Dominion, Southern Miss and James Madison’s move to the Sun Belt expands the conference’s reach into new states, adding West Virginia, Virginia and Mississippi.

“We are excited to officially welcome James Madison, Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss as members of the Sun Belt Conference,” Sun Belt Commissioner Keith Gill said. “This expansion to 14 members – and the regional rivalries it produces – makes the 2022-2023 academic year one of the most anticipated in Sun Belt history and signals the bright future that lies ahead of the conference.”

Old Dominion’s football program began in the 1930s and went on through 1941 when the school eliminated football. Old Dominion then restarted the program in 2007 and officially began play in the FCS in 2009. The Virginia-based school joined the Colonial Athletic Association in 2011 until becoming independent again in 2013 and then jumping to the FCS (Division I-A) in 2014 as a part of Conference USA. During it’s time in the FCS, Old Dominion made two playoff appearances – advancing to the second round twice – and was C-USA East Champion in 2016. Old Dominion has made two bowl appearances, winning the 2016 Bahamas Bowl and losing the 2021 Myrtle Beach Bowl.

James Madison is making the jump from FCS to FBS this season after 40 years at the FCS level and a number of championships. James Madison’s athletic programs have won national championships in football, field hockey, women’s lacrosse and archery.

The football program at James Madison began in 1972 and in 1976 joined Division II before entering Division III in 1977 and eventually making the jump to Division I-AA in 1980. The 2004 James Madison football team won the Division I-AA National Championship and again won the FCS Championship in 2016. The school has won a total of 10 conference championships in football and made the playoffs 18 times during its run in the FCS.

The Thundering Herd – one of the more storied programs in the Sun Belt now – is joining the Sun Belt after 17 years in C-USA. Marshall was a member of the Southern Conference, alongside Troy for much of the time, from 1977 until 1996 winning two Division I-AA National Championships during that span. Marshall made the jump back up to the FBS level in 1997 as a member of the Mid-American Conference. In total, the Thundering Herd have collected 13 conference championships in football and made 18 bowl appearances in the FBS.

Southern Miss also holds a storied history, especially in football, with two national championships in football 1958 and 1962. Southern Miss has also won eight conference championships. The Golden Eagles were a part of the old Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association in the 1930s and 1940s and joined the Gulf States Conference of Division I-AA in 1948 and joined the C-USA in 1996. Southern Miss 1952 through 1995 as an independent.

Troy will now be joined by Texas State, Southern Miss, South Alabama, Old Dominion, Marshall, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana, James Madison, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, Coastal Carolina, Arkansas State and Appalachian State in the Sun Belt.

While the four new schools bring conference expansion to the Sun Belt, the conference also lost two non-football affiliates in Little Rock and UT-Arlington. Little Rock departed for the Ohio Valley Conference and UT-Arlington joined the Western Athletic Conference.

Additionally, the Sun Belt’s conference expansion included adding Kentucky, Southern California, West Virginia and Central Florida as men’s soccer affiliates beginning this season. The Sun Belt also announced the addition of beach volleyball and swimming as conference sports beginning in the 2023-2024 season.

Troy is currently a member of all Sun Belt sponsored sports except for men’s soccer and indoor track and field. It’s unclear if Troy intends to add swimming and/or beach volleyball when the Sun Belt officially adopts the sport.