MTSU cheerleaders, Director of Athletics Chris Massaro (left) and President Sidney McPhee celebrate the university's new affiliation with Conference USA during a Nov. 29, 2012, press conference in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of MTSU/A. Heidt)
The conference soap opera is over for the MTSU Athletics.
The school announced Tuesday afternoon it has reached an agreement to join the Conference USA early, starting on July 1 of this year.
“We look forward to our future in Conference USA and are excited about developing new relationships with its member schools,” MTSU Director of Athletics Chris Massaro said. “I am really eager to see how our 2013 home football schedule shapes up.”
Originally, the program had announced in November it was ending its 13-year association with the Sun Belt Conference and joining the C-USA beginning in 2014. However, both sides were able to come to an agreement to end the relationship early, which gave the Blue Raiders a chance to join their new conference a year earlier.
“While we have been proud members of the Sun Belt, it was felt that it was the best interest of the university, our student-athletes and supporters to accelerate our move to Conference USA,” MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said Tuesday in a press release.
The last sticking point in the agreement was the amount of the buyout the school would pay to leave the Sun Belt early and how it was paid for.
McPhee said the university will pay the Sun Belt $700,000 to leave the league by June 30.
The university will use monies from private donations to the athletics department to cover the $700,000, McPhee said, rather than tapping into state funding or other revenues.
MTSU agreed to pay the Sun Belt half the sum within 30 days and the rest by June 30, the day before it joins Conference USA.
McPhee said MTSU will quickly recoup the exit fees through higher returns from revenue sharing in C-USA.
MTSU will start its C-USA play during the 2013-14 academic year in eight men’s sports and nine women’s sports with 15 other schools, including Charlotte, East Carolina, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, North Texas, Old Dominion, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, Alabama-Birmingham, Texas El-Paso and Texas-San Antonio.
Fellow Sun Belt member Florida Atlantic also announced Tuesday it was also joining C-USA in July 2013.
The Blue Raider men will continue to compete in baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, tennis, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field. While the Lady Raiders will compete in basketball, cross country, golf, tennis, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, volleyball, soccer and softball.
“Middle Tennessee has been one of the amazing growth stories in higher education and intercollegiate athletics,” C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky said Tuesday in a press release. “We are delighted to have them with us next year. The university has great leadership and will definitely contribute to our plan for the conference.”
During its time in the Sun Belt, which began in July 2000, the MTSU Athletics has won eight All-Sports trophies and 54 conference championships.
“We have enjoyed a great partnership with the Sun Belt Conference, which has provided us many avenues to further improve our athletic program,” Massaro said.