Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many college athletic departments have suffered financially, forcing them to reassess their immediate and long term plans.
Out of this, discussions surrounding conference realignment have resurfaced, and one such rumor (which appears to be just message board fodder at this point) involves Liberty and the Conference USA.
This discussion got us thinking – would Liberty accept a Conference USA invite if it was presented?
The fact that we’re even asking this question is evidence to the success of the program in recent years spearheaded by Athletic Director Ian McCaw.
Just a few years ago, Liberty was begging ANY FBS conference for a spot at the highest level of college football. Reports surfaced in 2017 that Liberty had offered C-USA millions of dollars (maybe as much as $24 million) to join the conference and the C-USA powers that be rejected the offer.
But that was before the NCAA approved Liberty’s waiver to join the FBS ranks without a conference invitation.
Now, the Flames have played two seasons as an FBS Independent and all other sports as a member of the ASUN, and the past two years couldn’t have gone much better.
The football program is riding an active streak of 14 consecutive seasons with at least 6 wins, including the past two years as an FBS member. Under first year head coach Hugh Freeze in 2019, Liberty secured the program’s first ever bowl invitation, ultimately defeating Georgia Southern in the 2019 Cure Bowl.
The men’s basketball team has won 59 games in the past two seasons, winning a share of the ASUN regular season title and tournament title each of the past two years. Ritchie McKay’s squad defeated Mississippi State in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, the school’s first ever NCAA Tournament win. That feat could have been duplicated if the 2020 NCAA Tournament was played.
The rest of Liberty’s athletic programs have fared similarly since moving to the ASUN as the Flames have won conference championships in men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track & field, women’s basketball, baseball, and swimming & diving.
This brings us back to our question – would Liberty accept an invitation from the C-USA if one was on the table?
Football recruiting would get an immediate boost. According to 247Sports, 10 of the 14 C-USA teams had higher rated classes than Liberty’s for the 2020 class highlighted by Florida Atlantic at No. 66.
Liberty has seen its best recruiting classes each of the past two cycles as an FBS member and under Freeze, with the program’s first ever top 100 class for 2020. Moving to C-USA, that trend would continue
A move to a conference would also make football scheduling much easier. Instead of having to schedule 12 games each season, the Flames would have 8 conference games guaranteed. Liberty already has completed schedules through 2023, but a conference home would significantly reduce the burden of putting these schedules together for the future.
Liberty would also benefit from being a conference with regional rivals like Old Dominion, Charlotte, and Marshall. Being an Independent and an FBS newbie hampers the ability to establish long-term rivalries, something college fans yearn for.
Obviously, football is the sport that drives the bus, but men’s basketball stands alone as the second most important program (from a financial standpoint) at the Division I level. There’s no disputing the Conference USA is a better league than the ASUN.
According to KenPom, the ASUN was the 26th ranked conference in Division I this past season compared to the Conference USA which checked in at No. 13. The C-USA has finished at least four spots ahead of the ASUN in men’s basketball every year this decade.
It wouldn’t be an easy decision. Conference USA would give Liberty an immediate boost, but it’s an immediate ceiling that LU could break through in the next few seasons in its current setup as an Independent and ASUN member.
Under McKay, Liberty has already proven basketball can compete for championships in the ASUN and continue to raise its recruiting profile. The same is true of football in recruiting and scheduling is not a concern for at least 4 years. Under Coach Freeze, Liberty is poised to make a breakthrough on the gridiron.
Ultimately, we don’t know what Liberty’s decision would be if an offer from C-USA was presented, but even having to discuss this is proof enough that the Flames are on the right trajectory.