NEW ORLEANS (SunBeltSports.org) – Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee will leave the Sun Belt Conference effective June 30, 2013, according to Commissioner Karl Benson.
The departure of the two members follows a settlement that allowed FAU and MTSU to pay a slightly reduced early exit fee. The schools had announced previously they would remain in the Sun Belt Conference until June 2014.
"Our desire to aid our athletic directors in finalizing the 2013 football schedule was the reason for allowing a reduced exit fee," Benson said. "While the seven-game conference schedule is not perfect, the understanding is that this would only be for one season."
With the date of withdrawal now clear, the Sun Belt stands to have eight football members and 10 total members for the 2013-14 year. The league will play a seven-game football schedule and a double round-robin 18-game schedule for men's and women's basketball.
"We will shift our attention back towards the future of the league and what our membership should consist of," Benson said. "As of now there are no pending invitations to the Sun Belt for membership, however, we know that there are a number of teams interested in joining our league."
Benson said the league's competitive performance in all sports, its position as one of only 10 BCS conferences and its geographical footprint are attractive to the institutions which have expressed interest in the SBC. The Sun Belt Conference just ended the most successful football season in its 12-year history, with four teams invited to bowl games. All four of those bowl teams will return to the Sun Belt Conference for the 2013 season.
Dr. Jack Hawkins, Chancellor of Troy University and President of the Sun Belt Conference Executive Committee, said the league's chief executives "appreciate the contributions Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee have made to the Sun Belt Conference. We wish FAU and MTSU well."
Next season's football membership for the Sun Belt will consist of Arkansas State, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama, Texas State, Troy and Western Kentucky. The league has two non-football members - UALR and UT Arlington.