For the past 25 years, Southern Miss has been a member of “the Conference of the United States of America” as head baseball coach Scott Berry once referred to it. Despite the loyalty the athletic department feels towards Conference USA, it is time to cut ties and move on.
Conference USA was founded in 1995 with its original members being Cincinnati, De Paul, Louisville, Marquette, St. Louis, South Florida, Memphis, Tulane, Charlotte, UAB and Southern Miss. Out of the original 11, only three schools remain with Charlotte leaving for the Atlantic 10 between 2005 and 2013. In 2005, six schools left C-USA for the Big East and Atlantic 10, and in 2013-2014 ,the remaining three realigned with the American Athletic Conference.
Each of these teams left C-USA to seek better opportunities and resources. C-USA should be used as a stepping stone to a bigger and better conference as programs grow. Southern Miss has stayed stagnant by remaining in the same conference.
In June there was an opening in the AAC after UConn left for the Big East. Southern Miss loyalists took to Twitter to petition for a conference change. Twitter users argued that realigning with previous C-USA members now in the AAC would improve attendance/viewership, sales and overall athletic competition.
This transition would have ultimately led to a complete change of conference for Southern Miss. By remaining in C-USA, student athletes are unable to grow by facing higher quality opponents.
C-USA is also unable to offer the resources and support expected of conferences. A large part of that is television contracts. While conferences such as the SEC and AAC have their own networks bringing in significant funds, C-USA streams games on Facebook, which provides no profit for its members.
Although a recent contract with NFL network showed some progress in TV revenue, the 10 games a season is divided between the 14 current conference members. Southern Miss only sees $321,000 from television for football. In the context of an athletic budget, those funds are small.
The ultimate benefits of changing conferences are more money and more wins. With more television time comes more sponsorships. With more sponsorships comes more money. With more money comes better recruits. With better recruits comes more wins.
With two SEC schools in the state, it is easy for Mississippi residents to forget there are other conferences out there. If Southern Miss wants to be invited to the SEC, they must first move to any conference that will extend a bid.
The issue is no one is interested in coming to Hattiesburg. It’s not because of a lack of talent at Southern Miss. It’s because there is a limited reach the city can provide. Conferences seek larger cities with more people and resources which can benefit both parties.
As of now, there is no conference with an opening, however, if an opportunity presents itself Southern Miss should take it.