SMU/SBC conference

Southern Mississippi athletic director Jeremy McClain and President Rodney D. Bennett along with Sun Belt Commissioner Keith Gill at the Oct. 26 press conference announcing SMU's 2023 addition.

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — The Sun Belt Conference and the University of Southern Mississippi announced in a joint press conference that the Golden Eagles will be joining the conference in 2023.

“I’d like to officially announce that the University of Southern Mississippi has accepted our invitation to the Sun Belt Conference,” SBC Commissioner Keith Gill said.

Southern Miss will officially join the conference by July 1, 2023, according to Southern Miss President Dr. Rodney Bennett.

Gill said the decision to invite Southern Miss was an easy decision for the conference, pointing to the competitiveness of their programs, academics and geographic location.

The 13th member of the conference will be the fifth smallest in terms of enrollment, and gives the Sun Belt a school in eight states. Southern Miss would be the 11th school with a football program and the only school in the conference with a winning record in football against Appalachian State.

As of the 2021 season, the Golden Eagles have a 2-0 record against the Mountaineers, with the most recent game happening in 2014. Their first matchup was in a 1937 bowl game, where Southern Miss won 7-0 to end the Mountaineers' season at 8-1-1.

Neither game was played in Boone, but there was a game scheduled for Sept. 15, 2018, at Kidd Brewer Stadium that was canceled due to Hurricane Florence.

Southern Miss will be departing Conference USA in one of many realignments that have come in the wake of Texas and Oklahoma’s planned move from the Big 12 Conference to the SEC, announced in July 2020. After the Longhorns and Sooners announced their move, the Big 12 responded by raiding Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida from the American Athletic Conference.

After losing three members, the AAC announced the addition of six C-USA members — Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, Alabama-Birmingham and Texas-San Antonio.

With Southern Miss’ departure, C-USA is left with Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee State, Texas-El Paso and Western Kentucky as full members. The conference does list Sun Belt schools Coastal Carolina, Georgia State and Louisiana-Monroe and SEC schools Kentucky and South Carolina as affiliate members — schools primarily in another conference that has a sports program in another conference.

Bennett noted that Southern Miss was a founding member of C-USA — which was established in 1995 — and thanked the conference and its member institutions for the years of competition and comradery.

As of the press conference, neither the Sun Belt or C-USA have announced any other planned changes to their conference. However, Gill said during the press conference that it was “safe to say we are not done expanding the conference.”

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