MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic are leaving the Sun Belt Conference early and joining Conference USA 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 the Sun Belt to speed up the move in all sports by a year.
``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 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 FIU, which also joins C-USA in 2013. FAU, 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 Charlotte, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Old Dominion and Texas-San Antonio starting in July when Memphis leaves for the Big East followed by Tulane and East Carolina in 2014.
The Sun Belt had raised the exit fee to $1 million last May, but both schools will pay $700,000. McPhee said Middle Tennessee will use money from private donations to the athletic department with $350,000 due within 30 days and the rest by June 30. But McPhee said Middle Tennessee will make that money back quickly through the higher revenue sharing in C-USA.
Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said the league agreed to a reduced exit fee to help their athletic directors finish setting their 2013 football schedules.
``While the seven-game conference schedule is not perfect, the understanding is that this would only be for one season,'' Benson said in a statement.
The departures leave the Sun Belt with eight football members and 10 total for 2013-14, so they will have a seven-game football schedule and a double round-robin 18-game schedule for men's and women's basketball.
Benson said there are currently no pending invitations to schools to join the Sun Belt, which includes Arkansas State, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama, Texas State, Troy and Western Kentucky in 2013-14 and non-football members ULAR and Texas-Arlington.
``However, we know that there are a number of teams interested in joining our league,'' Benson said.