- Associated Press - Thursday, November 29, 2012

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic will join Conference USA, leaving the Sun Belt as part of the ever-changing college landscape.

Conference USA announced the addition of its new members Thursday, just two days after Tulane and East Carolina left Conference USA for the Big East even with East Carolina just leaving in football.

“These are two great universities in wonderful places that have made strong commitments to athletics, and we’re excited about the potential they bring to the conference,” C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky said.

The two new members joining Conference USA by 2014 will give the league 14 schools in 10 states.

Middle Tennessee President Sidney McPhee called Thursday a “historic day” noting that universities have been in “constant movement” to align themselves. The Blue Raiders have won eight all-sports Sun Belt trophies in 12 years, and McPhee said their desire is to compete with the best.

“I’ve been told when the invitation was made that Conference USA has had their eyes on us for a number of years and a number of institutions have been very impressed by the progress of this university,” McPhee said.

Florida Atlantic caps a move from Division I-AA and puts the Owls in the league with rival FIU, which joins C-USA in 2013. FAU, with 28,000 students, opened a 29,419-seat football stadium on campus 13 months ago.

“This is a momentous day in the history of Florida Atlantic University,” Florida Atlantic athletic director Pat Chun said.

Adding these two schools helps C-USA with two years left on its television deals with Fox and CBS.

Middle Tennessee has the most undergraduate students at a Tennessee university and is located 30 miles southeast of Nashville puts C-USA into a media market ranked 29th nationally and its fourth Top 30 market. Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton puts the league into the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale market, which ranks 38th in the country.

Banowsky said C-USA may not be done expanding.

Western Kentucky, a longtime rival of Middle Tennessee’s in both the Ohio Valley Conference and Sun Belt, and New Mexico State could become C-USA members. But the commissioner said he would not discuss specifics.

Middle Tennessee athletic director Chris Massaro was more than happy to talk.

His university announced the move in its new $65 million student union building. The pep band and cheerleaders were on hand with a new banner featuring the C-USA logo. The crowd included plenty of graduates from the days when Middle Tennessee competed in Division I-AA and was in the OVC. Massaro pointed to the new $30 million education building that just opened near a $147 million science building being built across the square.

“What we’re doing is mirroring the growth of the entire institution,” the AD said.

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