Southern Miss at odds with Conference USA over early exit

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A C-USA flag flies above M. M. Roberts Stadium before the game in 2019.

Conference USA released its official 2022 football schedule this Tuesday, which includes Southern Miss. There is just one problem with this: Southern Miss, alongside Marshall and Old Dominion, announced it will leave the conference for the Sun Belt Conference on June 30 of this year. 

“The University will not participate in Conference USA during the 2022-23 academic year. This decision comes after considering the best interests of the University and the entire Golden Eagle family,” the Southern Miss Department of Athletics said in a statement released this past Friday. “The University has from the outset expressed its desire to work with Conference USA to achieve an amicable separation…Conference USA has so far refused to discuss any such arrangement with the University.”

C-USA responded that evening with a statement that acknowledged the ongoing conference realignment. 

“We have chosen not to engage publicly, but have communicated with our member institutions and expect them to meet those obligations,” the conference said.

This Tuesday, the Conference USA made its intentions known. 

“Conference USA intends to conduct the 2022-23 athletic year with the full 14 institution membership intact,” C-USA said.

 The conference announced it will “exhaust all necessary legal actions to ensure all members meet their contractual obligations,” meaning legal action may arise between the conference, Southern Miss, Marshall and Old Dominion. 

It is unlikely that the legal action will entail if it comes to fruition, but it is likely that the potential lawsuit will pertain to the schools leaving one year earlier than previously announced. 

The typical exit fee is $3 million and schools are required to give 14 months’ notice before leaving the conference. Southern Miss initially announced its plans to join the Sun Belt in June of 2023, but changed its course due to a stalemate in negotiations. 

Marshall also responded to Southern Miss in a tweet from interim athletic director Jeff O’Malley.

“Marshall Athletics is aware that Conference USA released its 2022 football schedule this afternoon, however, we stand by our statement from Friday,” Marshall said.

According to Sports Illustrated, the Sun Belt will release its schedule next week and could potentially feature Southern Miss as well. 

C-USA has its own reasons for wanting to retain the three schools for 2022-2023 as they will have only 11 teams in the conference for the 2022 football season. 

That would effectively eliminate the East and West divisions and alter the conference title game. 

Another factor is that C-USA would not have to make a new 2022 football schedule after three of its schools depart. 

This creates a problem, especially if the Sun Belt releases its schedule featuring the three schools as Sports Illustrated reported.

This summer will feature a feud between Southern Miss and Conference USA as realignment is imminent. Southern Miss will participate in athletics for the 2022-2023 year but the question that remains is what conference it will play in.