Sam Houston accepts offer to join Conference USA beginning in 2023

Bearkats football program will be eligible for CUSA Championship in Fall of 2024

Sam Houston State head coach K.C. Keeler hoists the championship trophy after defeating South Dakota State 23-21 for the NCAA college FCS Football Championship in Frisco, Texas, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth) (Michael Ainsworth, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

HUNTSVILLE – Sam Houston State University has officially accepted an invitation to join Conference USA, the league office announced Friday. The Bearkats will join New Mexico State, Liberty University and Jacksonville State beginning July 1, 2023, and will begin the transition to Football Bowl Subdivision status immediately following the conclusion of the 2021 FCS Playoffs.

The move is the second league transition in less than a year for Sam Houston, who is currently in its first year of competition in the Western Athletic Conference. Previously, Sam Houston had spent its first 34 years as a Division I program in the Southland Conference.

During its time in Division I, the Kats have claimed 72 conference titles and a pair of NCAA titles, culminating in a 2020 FCS National Championship in May. “While the landscape of college athletics has been changing rapidly, this is not a decision that was made overnight,” Williams said. “The steps we have taken over the last decade have prepared us for this move. I think it says a lot about the overall success of our athletics programs that our name was one of the first to come up.”

This move comes as part of a major shift in college athletics where 22 schools to date have recently announced changes in conference affiliation.

“We are delighted to join Conference USA and look forward to competing at a higher level, building new relationships and embracing a future this university has long considered,” said Dr. White. “We appreciate the leadership of the Western Athletic Conference as we began the conference transition process a year ago and look forward to working with officials at Conference USA as we move into this next exciting phase for our university.”

The addition of all four schools was approved unanimously by the C-USA Board of Directors.

“We are incredibly excited about adding these four new members and feel there is tremendous upside in these moves for our conference,” Conference USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod said. “This is a quality mix of established and emerging universities that provides us with a compelling group to continue to build with, focusing on competing for and winning championships well into the future. We have been deliberate in our efforts for the past few weeks to get us to this point and will continue to evaluate and consider our additional options for membership.”

Over the last decade, Sam Houston has become one of the top programs in the country. In addition to winning the FCS national title this past spring, the Kats have made eight appearances in the playoffs, six trips to the semifinals and three title game appearances since 2011.

“Positioning ourselves to play FBS football has been one of our priorities and we’ve made no secret about it,” Williams said. “While there is still work that must be done, we felt the time was right for all of our athletic programs. The way things are moving in college football, there is just no telling when an opportunity like this will come up again.”

Since the Bearkats already compete as a Division I program in all other sports, they will be eligible for championships and postseason play immediately. The transition process for football will begin at the conclusion of the current season and will increase to 85 student-athletes on full scholarship. The football program will be eligible for the Conference USA championship and any postseason opportunities beginning with the 2024 season.

Conference USA will be the sixth league Sam Houston has been affiliated with in its history, having previously competed in the Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the Lone Star Conference, the Gulf Star Conference before joining the Southland in 1987 and the WAC in July 2021.