For the third time in 15 years, the Florida Atlantic Owls will be changing their athletic conference affiliation.
FAU, along with five other current C-USA programs, will join the American Athletic Conference. The move's timetable is currently TBA, but it could come as soon as Summer of 2023.
“Florida Atlantic University is proud to be one of the newest members of the American Athletic Conference. As we enter a new era of academic and athletic excellence, the university – and especially our student-athletes – will benefit greatly from the additional resources and exposure afforded by membership in a Power 6 conference,” Florida Atlantic University President John Kelly said.
FAU Vice President and Director of Athletics Brian White added, "This is a momentous, historic day for Florida Atlantic University. Congratulations to everyone who has played a role in putting FAU Athletics in position to join a prestigious conference such as The American."
The Owls will be joined by UAB, UTSA, Charlotte, North Texas, and Rice, in their move from C-USA to the AAC. The move which will create a 14-team league along side the likes of USF, ECU, Temple, and Tulane.
The AAC has invited and accepted the C-USA Six after a trio of AAC programs announced their planned exit last month. UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston have accepted membership into the Big XII, but it is currently unknown when those programs will exit the American.
Ever since the three departing schools made the announcement, FAU's name was routinely listed by industry leaders and reports for possible AAC expansion.
The change in scenery has caused turmoil for C-USA. Long time members Marshall and Southern Miss are rumored to be joining the Sun Belt Conference. The Owls were members of the Sun Belt from 2006-2012.
After making the jump from the Atlantic-Sun Conference in Division I-AA (currently the FCS) in 2005, the Owls have been a brand on the rise, both on and off the gridiron.
FAU owns a Sun Belt Conference Championship from 2007, and back-to-back bowl victories in 2007 and 2008. In fact, the program made NCAA history in the fastest time from start-up, to bowl invite, to bowl victory, and to back-to-back bowl victory, with the latter record still standing to this day.
After initially being passed over for rival FIU, the Owls were eventually invited to join C-USA in 2013 with Middle Tennessee. Meanwhile, UTSA and Louisiana Tech joined from the WAC, FIU and UNT from the SBC, and Old Dominion and Charlotte with their newly created football programs, all agreed to join C-USA the year prior. Western Kentucky was the final defection from the SBC to C-USA in 2014.
Fast forward to the present, FAU Football has won a pair of C-USA Championships in the last four years, all-the-while seeing facility upgrades throughout the athletics department and overall year-to-year improvement throughout all sports.
This success, paired with the increased brand awareness and academic improvements, allowed FAU to be poised for the invitation.
Meanwhile, the move leaves Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech, FIU, Old Dominion, Western Kentucky, and UTEP as the only remaining programs in C-USA if Southern Miss and Marshall confirm their exit to the Sun Belt.
The AAC's last media negotiation saw each member institution make just under $7 million a year. Signed in 2019, that contract also stipulates that the annual funds can be re-negotiated if there is a change in the conference's membership.
The 12 year contract partnered the AAC with the ESPN family of networks. This includes ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and popular streaming platforms like ESPN3 and ESPN+. The contract is worth $1 billion of the dozen years as ESPN pays the conference $83.3 million a year.
While expected to take a hit, the payout is still expected to dwarf C-USA's annual payout of $500,000. C-USA routinely had marque matchups on Stadium and Facebook.
The departing six universities will send around $3 million each to C-USA in the form of exit fees. The $15 million will provide a nice cash flow whatever programs remain in the struggling league, who will most likely look to James Madison, Liberty, Jacksonville State, and Delaware to regain numbers.
At the same time, the AAC is set to receive at least $30 million combined from UCF, Houston, and Cincinnati as part of their exit stipulation. Although Commissioner Mike Aresco has said that the programs can negotiate a higher fee for a more expedited exit.
On the outside, it is apparent that FAU's move will afford a more beneficial television/media opportunity, but perhaps the most compelling gain will be that of newly established scheduling opportunities.
The last time the Owls hosted a soon-to-be AAC conference-mate was September 1, 2017 as Navy paid a visit to Boca Raton. A national television audience witnessed a sold out FAU Stadium rock on that Friday night.
FAU Stadium was also at capacity against current AAC member UCF in 2019. The following year would have seen a sell-out as the Bulls from USF made the trip across Alligator Alley to Boca Raton, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the game's cancelation.
While the Owls will be parting with long-time rival FIU, FAU will have an annual opportunity to create a new rivalry with USF. The Owls won the last contest vs. USF, 28-10 in 2013 at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium.
These scheduling opportunities extend to basketball. Currently one of the best hoops leagues in the nation, the AAC boasts strong programs like Temple, SMU, and Wichita State, who is a non-football member of the conference. The additions of UAB, Charlotte, and North Texas are surely going to help AAC weather the loses of Cincinnati and Houston.
Major facility upgrades are also on schedule to be delivered that will enhance the Owls' position within their newly found membership of programs.
Fondly known as "The Burrow" by faithful fans, students, and alumni, Abessinio Court at FAU Arena will undergo significant changes to locker rooms, suites, and other amenities that will provide a completely new look and feel for both the men's and women's basketball, and volleyball programs.
As one of the most successful sports in University history, FAU Baseball Stadium is in line for a plethora of long needed enhancements. This includes a new baseball performance center that will sit beyond the right foul pole.
Efforts are also being targeted at securing final commitments from potential donors that are directly tied to the move to the American.
Owl fans will look back at their time in C-USA fondly. The excitement Lane Kiffin helped bring to the program, and the athletics department as a whole, has spring-boarded FAU towards greener pastures.
The late and great Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger, the founding father of FAU Football, always believed in the potential of what was the sleepy university 1.8 miles from Boca Raton's pristine beaches. You do not have to be a legendary coach to notice it, as it is plain of all to see: that sleepy university is now a sleeping giant.