Marshall Joins the Sun Belt, C-USA Dwindles

As Marshall defeated the FIU Panthers by a whopping 38 points, Herd fans were traveling down the streets to Hoops Family Field at Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex.

The men’s soccer team, nationally ranked as the top team in the NCAA coaches’ poll this week, was setting to take the pitch on the same night.

In the Cam Henderson Center, while a Marshall squirrel made Sports Center, Herd basketball prepared to take on Davis & Elkins in an exhibition game.

Over 2,500 fans entered the Cam on Sunday for that exhibition contest: a game that doesn’t matter for the Herd’s overall season. Over 22,000 fans were in attendance between three games, in three different sports, happening on a holiday weekend. When you think about it, it’s no wonder that the Herd was a hot commodity when it came to conference relocation. Herd fans travel. 

A collection of meetings amongst the Board of Governors allowed Marshall officials, including Brad Smith and current President Jerome Gilbert, to select from the following reported options: independence, a reunion with the MAC, staying withing C-USA, and the move to the Sun Belt. Of course, the option selected landed Marshall within the Sun Belt prior to the 2022-23 season. Marshall has been a member of Conference USA since 2005. 

“Marshall’s football tradition and passionate fans bring a strong presence to the Sun Belt,” said Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill in a statement. “Their natural rivals are in our footprint and make our East division even more competitive.” 

With the move, the Sun Belt expects to reach 16 schools and 14 football programs. Marshall will be projected to join the East division which currently includes Coastal Carolina, a team ranked in the Top 25.

Other schools within the East division include Appalachian State, a team that Marshall has played in the past two seasons, developing an intense rivalry that resulted in national coverage this year. 

Marshall will pay the Sun Belt $80,000 in annual dues to the Sun Belt Conference, less than the amount currently paid to Conference USA. The earliest leave that Marshall can make would come after a 14-month notice. Exit fees, according to President Gilbert, total at roughly $3 million.  

“Once you give notice, you cannot receive distributions, but you are also required to give that 14-month notice, so if you get out before that, it is going to require some negotiations,” said Interim Athletic Director Jeff O’Malley.  

Along with Marshall, Southern Miss and Old Dominion intend to join the Sun Belt, expanding the Conference USA lineage within the conference. Nine teams have announced their leave from Conference USA since October. Presuming no changes take form, and that no other teams leave, Conference USA would be left with only five teams: WKU, Middle Tennessee, FIU, UTEP, and Louisiana Tech. Conference USA commissioner Judy Macleod announced that the conference is considering the addition of FCS schools that are looking to move up to FBS.  

Within those FCS schools sits James Madison, a school with national notoriety as an FCS powerhouse. JMU announced that they also intend to join the Sun Belt, giving Marshall another school within Virginia, along with Old Dominion, to help build regional rivalries.  The team has made three national title appearances within the last six years, giving the conference a fresh opponent that has yet to face an FBS school in conference play. 

Marshall fans should expect the Herd to join the conference no later than July 1, 2023.