CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After a few weeks of speculation, Conference USA announced that Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic are entering the league a year early. The two schools will join six other new members on July 1.
Both schools already had announced plans to switch conferences last November no later than July 1, 2014. But officials at both universities had been negotiating recently with Conference USA and their current home, the Sun Belt, to speed up the move in all sports.
"It was felt that it was in the best interest of the University, our student-athletes and supporters to accelerate our move to Conference USA,'' Middle Tennessee President Sidney A. McPhee said in a statement.
The Murfreesboro-based Blue Raiders weren't happy at losing out on a bowl berth last December despite finishing second in the Sun Belt with an 8-4 record. They joined the Sun Belt in July 2000 and leave having won a league-best 50 Sun Belt games and eight all-sports titles with 54 conference titles.
FAU President Mary Jane Saunders said the move helps the Owls with increased national exposure and opportunities. This caps a move from Division I-AA and puts the Owls in the league with rival Florida International, which also joins C-USA in 2013.
FAU, a Boca Raton-based school with 28,000 students, opened a 29,419-seat football stadium on campus 13 months ago after winning the Sun Belt football title in 2007.
"The league's television partnerships, large footprint and bowl tie-ins will expose our student-athletes to new experiences as they compete against schools across 10 states and in several of the top media markets in the country,'' Saunders said in a statement.
Conference USA also is adding North Carolina-Charlotte, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Old Dominion and Texas-San Antonio starting in July, when Memphis, Houston, Southern Methodist and Central Florida leave for the Big East. Tulane and East Carolina will follow in 2014.