For the first time in school history, Liberty is preparing to join an FBS conference as an all-sports member. Last fall, the Flames announced it had accepted an invitation to join Conference USA beginning with the 2023-24 athletic season.

The news had been a long time coming for the Liberty Flames as the institution has long searched for a conference home at the FBS level. In 2013 and 2014, Liberty appealed to the Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA to join the conference as the Flames were looking to move to the FBS from the FCS ranks. Both of those leagues turned Liberty down then, with reports of LU even offering as much as $24 million to join one of the conferences at the highest Division I football playing classification.

In February 2017, Liberty announced it had received a waiver from the NCAA to reclassify to the FBS as an Independent without a conference invitation. In May 2018, Liberty moved all of its other sports from the Big South to the ASUN, which, at the time, did not sponsor football.

“If you just look at football, where things are going from a conference realignment standpoint, I think Independent is a very challenging path to navigate in the future given where things are going with the (College Football Playoff), given where college football is moving, I think that was the right move for football,” said Liberty AD Ian McCaw in recent exclusive interview with ASOR.

Alongside Liberty, New Mexico State, Jacksonville State, and Sam Houston will also be joining CUSA in 2023. Those four newcomers will add to the conference which will include Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, and UTEP to comprise of a nine-member all-sport conference.

“We are in the process of negotiating our TV contract right now and certainly hopeful that will be something that is a great enhancement for Liberty, as well as the other members,” said McCaw. “Revenue sharing is going to be better, (as will) level of competition and exposure.”

Under Hugh Freeze, the Flames will seek to compete for conference championships in football immediately. Across the board for the other sports that will compete in CUSA, Liberty will see a considerable step up in level of competition than what it has experienced in recent years in the Big South and ASUN. For example, in men’s basketball, the ASUN ranked as the 21st best conference in Division I in 2021-22 according to KenPom. CUSA was rated as the 13th best league. That will be a similar case for Liberty’s other sports.

“I’ve been meeting with each of our coaches and talking about Conference USA preparedness, and, in virtually every sport, this is going to be a significant elevation in terms of the competitive level,” McCaw explained. “We are going to really have to have our ducks in a row to make sure our programs are positioned to have success in Conference USA. Obviously, we have enjoyed a lot of success in the Big South and great success in the ASUN, but this is going to be very, very competitive and we’re going to need to be prepared for that.”

Conference realignment is always a moving target as schools look to better themselves for the future of collegiate athletics. Almost a year after accepting the CUSA invitation, McCaw says this was the right move for the Flames at the right time.

“For a myriad of reasons, this was the right decision for us and I’m really excited about the future Conference USA membership,” said McCaw. “The group of nine is going to be a really good atmosphere for us, a really good group of schools to be aligned with. We will see if we promote beyond nine.”