What the Conference USA means to New Mexico State

In the ever changing world of college football it is becoming more evident that, unless you are Notre Dame, being classified as independent and not playing in a football conference is not the way to go about thriving, let alone surviving, the near future of the sport. Thanks to the University of Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC in 2025 realignment is the talk of the town. The first domino fell and thus conference realignment started. Teams left their conferences and bounced around. The independent schools sat and watched waiting their turn. 

On November 10th 2021, it became official, at least for New Mexico State University, that they will be joining the Conference USA in all sports starting on July 1st 2023. But what does this mean for the school? What does it mean for athletics? What does it mean financially? Lastly, and arguably more importantly, what does it mean for the football team?

For the university this is a huge deal. Financially it will cost the school $1.5 million over 5 years to join the C-USA and an extra $85,000 in exit fees to leave the Western Athletic Conference. That’s a lot of money to lose over a short amount of time, but the blow should be cushioned by the simple fact the C-USA as a whole was given $17 million from the College Football Playoffs to spread out to their schools. That’s sizable to the $300,000 that NMSU got while being independent. That $17 million doesn’t factor in the $500,000 that C-USA schools get in their TV deal.

Moving on from what it means for the school and its financials, we can focus on what it means for athletics. While it may be a football driven move, it doesn’t mean it wont help the other sports. The C-USA is more competitive all around as opposed to the WAC. In the two money making sports, football and men’s basketball, specifically the school should see an influx of competition as the basketball program moves on from playing GCU and Utah Valley to playing Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State. Another huge impact will be the rivalry with University Texas El Paso. The two schools haven’t shared a conference since the border conference back in 1961. The two schools already complete yearly in all sports, but now the impact is made bigger by it being a conference game. The two schools had already played a home-home series while not being in the same conference. Now there’s just more behind the rivalry.

Lastly, what does this mean for the football team? The first immediate impact is that NMSU gets to continue playing FBS football as opposed to waiting for the WAC to maybe move up from FCS. The second impact would be consistent scheduling as opposed to independent life. No longer will Aggie fans have to watch NMSU play Alabama in late November just to collect a check. Instead you can watch NMSU play in competitive football games vs old WAC foe Louisiana Tech or even Florida International. This will be the first time NMSU will play in a conference for football since they left the Sun Belt in 2017.

This is just one of the big changes that has come for NMSU sports this year. A new women and men’s basketball coach will be looked towards to lead their teams into the C-USA, but the man with a bigger challenge would have to be new football coach Jerry Kill as he looks to lead the Aggies into a new conference and also rebuild a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2017 when they finished the regular season 6-6, and went on to win the Arizona Bowl under coach Doug Martin. 

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