With Brett McMurphy’s report late Monday stating that Liberty is likely to join a new look Conference USA with an official announcement as soon as the end of this week, it opens the door to a conference home for Liberty football at the FBS level that it has craved for decades.

In the last conference realignment cycle, Liberty tried to bribe its way into the FBS cycle by reportedly offering $24 million to Conference USA and probably a similar offer to the Sun Belt prior to the NCAA granting the Flames a waiver to move up to the top level of the NCAA to play football. Now, with CUSA losing as many as 11 of their 14 members in just a few weeks’ time, CUSA may have to come to Liberty and beg athletic director Ian McCaw and the Flames to help salvage what is left of the conference.

Just a couple weeks ago, CUSA officially lost six members to the American Athletic Conference as UTSA, North Texas, Rice, Charlotte, FAU and UAB each made the move. That was a strong blow to CUSA, but the moves wouldn’t stop. Since then, three more schools – Southern Miss, Old Dominion, and Marshall – have all announced their moves from CUSA to the Sun Belt as the conference is currently standing with seven remaining members.

Over the weekend and into the early part of this week, rumors have begun heating up regarding CUSA members Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee being courted by the MAC. While it looks likely that those two institutions could end up in the MAC, nothing is official as of this moment.

CUSA’s membership currently consists of UTEP, Louisiana Tech, Florida International and WKU and MTSU. The NCAA requires FBS conferences to have at least eight members, so in order to remain alive as a conference CUSA must get to work. McMurphy’s report on Monday stated that Liberty would be one of four schools to join CUSA as the Flames are rumored to join the league alongside fellow FBS Independent New Mexico State and FCS call-ups Sam Houston State and Jacksonville State. This would bring the conference to seven members pending the decision of WKU and MTSU which, if they remain, would hold the league at a steady nine members.

If WKU and MTSU depart CUSA, the conference would need to find a couple of other members. FBS Independents UMass and UConn could join as football only members while they keep the rest of their sports in the Atlantic 10 and Big East, respectively. There have also been rumors over the past several weeks of non-football playing schools UT-Arlington and Arkansas-Little Rock, who currently reside in the Sun Belt, being forced out of that league. If that happens, CUSA could easily swoop in and add those two institutions to have nine football and nine non-football members.

Of course, as we have seen over the past couple of months, conference realignment is very fluid and all of this can change daily. If Liberty does join CUSA, it has its positives and negatives, as most major decisions do. A move to CUSA would not be forever as we have come to learn in recent years. Schools are continually switching conferences, and moving to the CUSA now could set Liberty up in a better position to make its next move when that time comes.

Men’s Basketball

First, let’s look at it from all sports other than football. Liberty would be joining a conference that is a step-up from the current ASUN in men’s basketball. Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State have strong basketball programs white UTEP, Jacksonville State, and Sam Houston State all provide an increase in competition from the current ASUN. Here’s a look at the final NET rankings from last season of this proposed conference:

71 Louisiana Tech
85 Liberty
143 UTEP
156 Jacksonville State
164 New Mexico State
169 Sam Houston State
221 Arkansas Little Rock
242 UT Arlington
298 Florida International

That’s an average of 172.1 compared to an average final NET ranking of 248.7 of last year’s ASUN. CUSA would have had six teams ranked in the top 170, all higher than the second highest ranked ASUN team behind Liberty last season as Bellarmine was ranked No. 172. The third highest ranked ASUN team, Lipscomb at No. 240, would have been 8th in this proposed CUSA.

Olympic Sports

An obvious negative to this proposed CUSA is the distance between schools and potential increased travel budgets. That wouldn’t necessarily be the case for Liberty. The Flames already have to fly to most of its conference mates in the ASUN, which wouldn’t change in the new CUSA. Conference USA has also, in the past, only had one conference event in many of the Olympic sports – the conference championship event. That has happened previously in tennis, golf, track and field, and swimming and diving. Liberty could play their entire regular season schedule at home or short road trips to regional opponents in non-conference matches with just one conference event for many of the Olympic sports.


That brings us to the primary drive of conference realignment, football. There are certainly positives and negatives to Liberty joining Conference USA. In it’s current state, there is no question that CUSA would be the weakest Group of Five conference behind the Mountain West, AAC, Sun Belt, and MAC, but power shifts in these conferences frequently. During the last realignment phase, it was the Sun Belt that was seen as the weakest league, but that has changed as a few of their members have seen some success. This could happen again over the next several years.

By joining CUSA, Liberty will finally have an opportunity to compete for conference championships. It’s something coaches, like Hugh Freeze, like to be able to strive for each and every season. It also stabilizes Liberty’s scheduling moving forward. In an eight or nine team CUSA, the Flames would have a solid base of 7-8 games each season to build from. This would also leave plenty of flexibility in the non-conference games with as many as 5 non-conference games to schedule each season. Liberty would continue to schedule multiple Power Five games, mainly against the ACC, while also adding some attractive, regional G5 opponents from the Sun Belt and other leagues.

Being in a conference also helps give Liberty a clear path to the College Football Playoff, especially considering the potential expansion of the playoff to as many as 12 teams. The proposed expansion to 12 teams in the CFP, would award an automatic bid to the six highest conference champions plus six at-large spots. Most years, the five power conference schools would gobble up five of those six auto bids leaving one for the remaining G5 conferences to fight over. It wouldn’t be an easy path to the CFP for Liberty in CUSA, but as an Independent it would be just as difficult if not even more so.

CUSA also has a current bowl lineup that spans through the 2025 college football season that guarantees seven bowl appearances each season. This bowl agreement will certainly be re-worked once all of the realignment dominoes settle, but the current alignment sets CUSA with the Bahamas Bowl, R+L Carries New Orleans Bowl, Independence Bowl, Hawaii Bowl, LendingTree Bowl, Armed Forces Bowl, Birmingham Bowl, Boca Raton Bowl, Camellia Bowl, Cure Bowl, Fenway Bowl, First Responder Bowl, Frisco Bowl, Gasparilla Bowl, Myrtle Beach Bowl, and New Mexico Bowl.

Conference USA currently has a media deal with CBS Sports that runs through the 2022-23 season. This media deal has been criticized publicly, but it is likely this deal is reworked and the new look CUSA can start fresh. Liberty currently has a strong relationship with ESPN in its current deal, and it is likely the Flames can work with ESPN and CUSA to secure a new deal for the new look conference.