Tuesday December 5, 2023

C-USA Facing Legal Fight With Departing Schools As TV Deal Looms

  • On Feb. 11, Southern Miss, ODU, and Marshall confirmed publicly they would leave Conference USA by June 30.
  • The conference has since announced plans to pursue legal action to keep the schools around for another season.
Ben Queen-USA TODAY/Design: Alex Brooks
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Complications stemming from last year’s round of conference realignment are beginning to materialize. Conference USA could face a major legal battle with three of its outgoing schools.

It all started last fall, when Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss announced they’d accepted bids to join the Sun Belt Conference and leave Conference USA.

Beginning in December, the schools had attempted to negotiate an “amicable” split after the 2022 season, per a Southern Miss statement. On Feb. 11, the schools confirmed publicly they would leave on June 30.

The schools are obligated to pay $3 million each in exit fees, which they have agreed to do, according to Sports Illustrated. The problem? Conference USA’s bylaws reportedly state that schools must give 14 months notice before they depart.

In response, Conference USA released a schedule for 2022-23 with the three schools on it, along with a threat: It will “exhaust all necessary legal actions to ensure all members meet their contractual obligations.”

Media Rights Battle

Maintaining media rights revenue may be a motivating factor for engaging in what could be an expensive fight.

  • Conference USA has a television deal with CBS that expires after the 2022-23 season.
  • It reported about $6.4 million in total television and marketing revenue on 2019 tax returns.

The conference will also lose six other schools to the American Athletic Conference, likely by the 2023-24 season.

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