The league is disappearing, something we mentioned would happen eventually as nearly every program had one eye on the greener pastures of other conferences the entire time as a member. Brett McMurphy of Action Network wrote that the league has dim prospects.
Today, the AAC announced the new members of the league. You know them as former CUSA membership UAB, the defending football champ; North Texas, the defending basketball champ; UTSA, the current 7-0 ranked football program; FAU, the two-time football champ; Charlotte, the rising program; and Rice, the richest, smartest of them all (and former champ).
Losing the entire rest of Texas makes continued membership for UTEP even more curious. The problem is that there is little in the way of interest. McMurphy previously reported that the Miners, along with NT, UTSA, and Rice were sniffing around the Mountain West before that avenue was closed.
He now reports that it is either lose two more (USM and WKU) and survive as an eight-team league, or lose three (USM, Marshall, ODU) and essentially collapse. Either option involves inviting JMU, and at least one means adding Liberty as well. You might remember the league’s members chose not to accept Liberty previously.
You might have noticed that the American is basically the old/new CUSA, with some founding members combined with newer ones. For the former Belt teams that moved over, it is something like the CUSA they thought they were joining previously in 2013. For Southern Miss, this is shockingly unfair. The proud program once dominated the former version of CUSA and now is being left behind and forced to join the Sun Belt.
That choice might be a blessing, considering the strength of the Belt right now, and the cultural fit. The problem is that simply lining up against Coastal Carolina is not going to mean much different than lining up against UAB last week. There is more investment and rebuilding of all aspects of the athletic department that need to happen.
Marshall, ODU, and Western are all looking for either a better fit, some easy travel, and something that makes more sense than what is happening right now. Marshall and WKU were the headliners of this conference in the mid-teens, and it sure seemed like those two were valuable choices given some combination of history (recent or otherwise), and success. Instead, they are left looking at JMU and Liberty with pleading eyes. Or a migration to the Belt side, which would be a return for WKU, and an odd fit for Marshall. Herd fans wondered allowed why they had to travel to Texas, and will now have to travel to Monroe, LA if they get the best deal.
ODU seemed committed to the league, but really wants something like a basketball league with an eastern focus. The commitment to football means the school is looking at Belt schools as conference mates and hoping the association can raise that gridiron profile while not detracting from the basketball focus. Marshall, ODU, and WKU would be far-and-away the top-tier of the Belt in basketball and that could be enticing enough to be enough. WKU made the tournament 12 times in the Belt. Marshall used to be league mates with App State way back when.
The truth is there is no obvious great choice for any program left. Returning to independence is an thought, but Liberty, which went 10-1 last year was angling for a conference invite and BYU is joining up with the Big 12. Scheduling is tough and programs without national followings like Army and Notre Dame are struggling in loner life. It is possible, however. NMST basically played a MWC schedule this season. ND played a half- ACC one. BYU has five PAC-12 matchups this season, had three CUSA, three Belt, and two American last year.
CUSA as we know it is will be no more, very soon.