Southern Miss officially joins Sun Belt, will enter league no later than July 2023

Southern Miss has joined the Sun Belt Conference and will enter the league as a full member no later than July 1, 2023, the league announced Tuesday.

The addition gives the Sun Belt 11 football-playing members (Little Rock and Texas-Arlington are also in the league).

"This is a big day for our conference," Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill said in a prepared statement. "Southern Miss brings a host of strengths to our conference. They are competitive across all of their sports, have a strong brand and are supported by a great fan base. The electric atmosphere surrounding their games is a tradition we are proud to now be a part of."

Sources say the Sun Belt also is close to adding Marshall, Old Dominion and James Madison, which would increase the football membership to 14.

The Sun Belt should add Old Dominion later this week, while James Madison and Marshall could come later, sources said. James Madison's board scheduled an emergency meeting for Friday, according to Harrisonburg, Virginia, paper the Daily News-Record, and Marshall is set to name a new university president on Thursday.

Southern Miss has been a member of Conference USA since 1996, after competing as an independent from 1952 to 1995. The Golden Eagles are the latest team to depart Conference USA, which last week lost UAB, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Rice, North Texas and UTSA to the American Athletic Conference. Potential Sun Belt expansion targets Old Dominion and Marshall also are in Conference USA, while James Madison is one of the top FCS programs and competes in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Southern Miss has teams in 17 varsity sports, and all but one -- beach volleyball -- are sponsored by the Sun Belt.

"This move will allow Southern Miss student-athletes to compete in what is fast-becoming the best Group of Five conference in the country and will provide greater visibility for the university's championship athletics programs," Southern Miss president Rodney Bennett said in a prepared statement. "The Sun Belt's geographic footprint will create new regional rivalries and will encourage more visitors to Mississippi, further increasing our athletics programs' $41 million annual economic impact on the state."