USM building

Photo/Kevan Lindsey

The Sun Belt Conference announced on Tuesday the addition of The University of Southern Mississippi into the league after a unanimous vote of the Sun Belt CEOs. Southern Miss will become members no later than July 1, 2023.

“This is a big day for our conference. We are thrilled to welcome The University of Southern Mississippi to the Sun Belt. Southern Miss brings a host of strengths to our conference. They are competitive across all of their sports, have a strong brand and are supported by a great fan base. The electric atmosphere surrounding their games is a tradition we are proud to now be a part of,” said Keith Gill, Sun Belt Conference Commissioner. “I am grateful to President Dr. Rodney D. Bennett and Athletics Director Jeremy McClain for their leadership during this process. I’d also like to thank the CEOs and athletic directors of our current member institutions for their efforts as we continue our discussions around adding new members.”

The addition of Southern Miss will bring the number of Sun Belt members to 13 with the Golden Eagles joining current members App State, Little Rock, Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Louisiana, ULM, South Alabama, UTA, Texas State and Troy.

“When national realignment discussions began, our presidents and chancellors expressed confidence in the current SBC configuration, but also defined the parameters for potential new members. Our goal was to only add schools that added value, that fit geographically, and that mirrored our athletics and academic missions,” said Dr. Kelly Damphousse, Arkansas State President & Chair of Sun Belt Executive Committee. “Southern Miss perfectly matched those parameters, and my colleagues look forward to welcoming President Bennett and his colleagues to the Sun Belt Conference.”

The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910 and located in Hattiesburg, Miss., is a Tier-1 Research University that supports a student population of over 14,000. The school has won five NCAA national championships—two in NCAA Division II football in 1958 and 1962 and three individual crowns in track & field. The football program has appeared in 26 bowl games all-time. The men’s basketball program won the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) in 1987, the softball program appeared in two College World Series in 1999 and 2000 and the baseball team advanced to the College World Series in 2009.

“Membership in the Sun Belt Conference is an exciting opportunity for The University of Southern Mississippi, for our student-athletes, for our alumni and fans, and for the University’s host communities,” said University President Rodney D. Bennett. “This move will allow Southern Miss student-athletes to compete in what is fast-becoming the best Group of Five conference in the country and will provide greater visibility for the University’s championship athletics programs.”

Geographically, Southern Miss is a natural fit as the state of Mississippi is bordered by three states (Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana) that are currently home to Sun Belt institutions.

“The Sun Belt’s geographic footprint will create new regional rivalries and will encourage more visitors to Mississippi, further increasing our athletics programs’ $41 million annual economic impact on the state,” Bennett said.

The Golden Eagles sponsor 17 varsity sports. Men’s sports include baseball, basketball, football, golf, indoor track & field, outdoor track & field and tennis. Women’s sports include basketball, beach volleyball, cross country, golf, indoor track & field, outdoor track & field, soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball. Southern Miss participates in every sport sponsored by the Sun Belt Conference except men’s cross country. The Sun Belt Conference sponsors every sport in which the Golden Eagles compete except beach volleyball.

“Today is a great day for Southern Miss. I want to thank Commissioner Gill and the Board of Directors within the Sun Belt for their faith in our institution and our ability to add value to the conference,” said Jeremy McClain, Southern Mississippi Director of Athletics. “We are excited about adding our rich tradition of success and passionate fan base to a conference that values those attributes, and look forward to working together to continue to elevate the Sun Belt on the national stage.”

The Sun Belt Conference was founded in 1976 and began sponsoring football in 2001. Over the course of the past five seasons, the conference has posted an FBS-leading .692 winning percentage in bowl games, going 18-8 over the stretch.

The Sun Belt sponsors 17 NCAA sports and annually awards nearly $134 million in financial aid to more than 4,600 student-athletes. App State, Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Louisiana, ULM, South Alabama, Texas State and Troy comprise the league’s 10 football members. Little Rock and UTA compete as Sun Belt members in sports other than football.

SUN BELT MEMBERSHIP

Joined Institution Location Enrollment

1976 South Alabama Mobile, Ala. 9,050

1991 Arkansas State Jonesboro, Ark. 8,486

1991 Little Rock Little Rock, Ark. 7,006

1991 Louisiana Lafayette, La. 14,020

2005 Troy Troy, Ala. 12,712

2006 ULM Monroe, La. 6,859

2013 Georgia State Atlanta, Ga. 28,772

2013 Texas State San Marcos, Texas 33,193

2013 UTA Arlington, Texas 35,064

2014 App State Boone, N.C. 18,061

2014 Georgia Southern Statesboro, Ga. 23,469

2016 Coastal Carolina Conway, S.C. 9,500