CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More and more, it seems that Middle Tennessee State and Florida Atlantic will accelerate their entrance into Conference USA, joining the league for the upcoming football season.
The two schools accepted an invitation in late November to join the league in all sports in 2014-15, coinciding with the announced exit of East Carolina and Tulane to the Big East. C-USA had already lined up six schools for 2013-14, with four immediately ready to play football.
"My understanding is there is that possibility," Mike Hamrick, MU athletic director, said Thursday. "But nothing has been finalized."
This seems certain: Murfreesboro-based Middle Tennessee and Boca Raton-based FAU are negotiating for an early exit from the Sun Belt, a conference that is also losing Florida International to C-USA. Their early entrance has been connected to a rumored early exit of ECU and Tulane, but those schools reportedly are staying put next season, as planned.
"We're planning on being a 14-team league, but it definitely could be a 16-team league if MTSU and FAU want to join for next year," assistant commissioner Courtney Morrison-Archer told Owl Access, an FAU-oriented website, earlier this month.
The situation could be sorted out before or during the meeting of the league's athletic directors, next Tuesday and Wednesday in Miami. It has to happen soon, as football scheduling must be done with teams to be assigned divisions in the revamped league.
On the league's western front, the Tulsa World reported Thursday that the University of Tulsa, the small private school with one of C-USA's best all-around athletic programs, could be heading to the Big East. That became a greater possibility this week when San Diego State decided to stay in the Mountain West Conference.
Academics could pay a big role in Tulsa's decision. President Steadman Upham told the World newspaper in December, "Losing two of the private schools [Southern Methodist and Tulane] in Conference USA is damaging to me, in the way I think about the conference."
Indeed, all C-USA newcomers are state-supported schools: North Carolina-Charlotte, Old Dominion, FIU, Texas-San Antonio, North Texas, Louisiana Tech, FAU and Middle Tennessee. Old Dominion and the still-infant Charlotte program are planning to work their football teams into full C-USA competition by 2015.
If Tulsa heads to the Big East, speculation for C-USA's next entrant will center on Western Kentucky, a still-young football program now coached by Bobby Petrino.