Missouri State University leaders discuss move to Conference USA (2024)

By Joe Hickman

Published: May. 13, 2024 at 12:15 PM CDT|Updated: 16 hours ago

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Missouri State University accepted an invitation to join Conference USA as a full-league member, effective July 1, 2025. League and university officials announced the move on Friday morning.

The announcement will officially place Missouri State University in the NCAA’s exclusive Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) for the first time. Missouri State will become the 12th full-time member of CUSA, which is comprised of the following universities:

  • Florida International University (FIU), Miami, Florida
  • Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, Alabama
  • Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia
  • Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, Louisiana
  • Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
  • New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico
  • Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texa
  • University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), El Paso, Texas
  • Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky
  • Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia (joining July 1, 2024)
  • University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware (joining July 1, 2025)

At a news conference on Monday (May 13) to officially announce the move, Missouri State University’s retiring President Clif Smart pointed out that recent moves in the ever-changing college athletic landscape, with teams leaving one conference to join another, are one reason the timing was right for the Bears to join the FBS. The Football Bowl Subdivision is the highest level of college football. MSU had been on the next level down, the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision), as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference.

“In my judgment, this is probably the last spot open for a long time absent a bigger realignment going on that changes everything,” Smart said. “All of that movement with schools going to different conferences opened up a spot. Typically the two conferences that are entry points are the Sunbelt and Conference USA. The Sunbelt filled up several years ago. They have 14 schools and are very happy with what they have. Conference USA had one spot left, and when we looked at those schools, where they were located, and did the financial analysis, it made sense.”

NCAA Division I football has ten conferences. The upper-echelon Power 5 leagues (SEC, Big 10, Big 12, ACC, and Pac-12) saw the Pac-12 fall apart, with almost all their teams leaving. Among the Group of 5 leagues (Conference USA, Sunbelt, American Athletic Conference, Mountain West and Mid-America Conference) Conference USA has had its share of comings-and-goings. Even though the Dallas-based league didn’t start until 1995, the list of members who have left is too long to mention in total. Still, it includes the likes of SMU, TCU, Houston, Memphis, Central Florida, Saint Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Tulsa, Marquette, and DePaul.

Because of that, Conference USA is widely viewed as a stepping stone to more high-profile leagues. CUSA Commissioner Judy MacLeod spoke to that in an interview after Monday’s news conference.

“I do think we’ve taken pride in building and helping programs grow,” she said. “And some have moved on to other opportunities. At the end of the day, if people do that in the right way, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I do hate to see some of the things that are happening. I’m a West Coast native and would have never imagined what happened to the Pac-12.”

As MacLeod told those attending Monday’s news conference, the business side of college football is volatile, ever-changing, and unpredictable.

“I’m pretty sure there’s never been a more unsettled time,” she said.

And after her league got whittled down to five members only to get back up to 12 with the addition of MSU?

“As a commissioner, your head’s kind of always on a swivel,” MacLeod said. “If we’re not thinking about it all the time, we’re going to get left behind. The last time we knew something was coming, we didn’t know there would be that many at once. We had Plan A, B, and Plan C in place and got pretty far down on our list. But we always have to have those plans ready and be prepared.”

While praising MSU’s basketball arena, MacLeod mentioned the need for football facility upgrades at Plaster Stadium, pointing out that virtually all the conference-jumping decisions these days are based on that sport.

“Football is really the reason for the move,” she explained. “Everything else goes with it, and everything else is important, but football is the driver.”

And as for what changes are needed for the football facilities?

“The first phase is the locker room and weight room,” Smart said. “That’s about a $4.2 million project that we’re fundraising for right now. The press box needs real work. The side of the stadium that the community sits on and the suite level needs real work. That’s another $6-10 million and will likely be done in pieces.”

While moving from the FCS to the FBS level has been discussed for years, Smart mentioned during the news conference that the Board of Governors first discussed the move in February 2023 and that there was unanimous support for investigating the possibility of making the jump.

“When I saw the quality and size of the schools that were in this conference, I felt they were like us,” he said. “Western Kentucky, Texas-El Paso, and Louisiana Tech are like us. There are schools in great media markets like Miami, Atlanta, and San Antonio. And they’re all public but one. So it’s schools that are like us and schools we want to be more like. The league we’ve been in has been great for us, but it’s got several really small private schools that have different agendas, strategies, and budgets. So we think this is really a nice move for us.”

“What makes this agreement special is that both sides knew it was the right thing to do when they got to this point,” MacLeod added. “We always want to be thoughtful and thorough with the data we go through, and we make visits to the school where we build relationships with the people and understand where they’re going. We look at the university and its academic reputation, the history and success of the programs, student-athletes academic performance, and compliance history to see if there are any issues. We look at fan engagement, attendance, social media metrics, and facilities. And one of the big keys is how they treat their student-athletes and how they value their experience.”

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Copyright 2024 KY3. All rights reserved.

Missouri State University leaders discuss move to Conference USA (2024)

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