November 5, 2021 : By Liberty University Athletics
Liberty University announced a new direction for its athletics department earlier today, as conference membership for its athletics programs will move to Conference USA, starting with the 2023-24 athletics season.
Conference USA will be the all-sports conference for Liberty Athletics, including the Flames’ football team that has competed as an FBS independent program since moving up to the FBS level in 2018.
Along with Liberty, Conference USA announced the addition of three other new members this afternoon: Jacksonville State University (Jacksonville, Ala.), New Mexico State University (Las Cruces, N.M.) and Sam Houston State University (Huntsville, Texas).
Liberty enters Conference USA on the heels of its most successful year in athletics department history.
Liberty finished the 2020-21 athletics season with an overall winning percentage of 70.5 percent (220-90-7), while winning 10 conference championships and a bowl game.
Football had a season of “firsts” in 2020, including the team’s first-ever national ranking, first win over an ACC opponent, the best start in school history (8-0 to start 2020), first-ever win over a top-25 FBS program and back-to-back bowl game wins.
The Flames finished the season with a 10-1 record, tying the program’s record for wins in a season (Liberty finished the 2008 season with a 10-2 record).
With the Cure Bowl win over its former Big South rival Coastal Carolina, Liberty became the second transitioning team in NCAA history to win consecutive bowl games during its first two full seasons at the FBS level.
During the 2020-21 season, Liberty claimed conference titles in men’s basketball, men’s golf, men’s indoor track & field, men’s outdoor track & field, men’s tennis, softball, women’s cross country, women’s outdoor track & field, women’s soccer and women’s swimming & diving.
Liberty’s move to Conference USA marks the third athletics conference for the Flames since moving up to the NCAA Division I level in 1988.
Liberty was a member of the Big South Conference for 27 years (1991-2018), where the Flames claimed a conference record 13 Big South Sasser Cup trophies, an annual award given to the conference’s most successful athletics program (1997-98, 1998-99, 1999-2000, 2001-02, 2002-03, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13, 2015-16, 2016-17).
During its time in the Big South, Liberty’s programs claimed 146 championships (in descending order): Men’s Outdoor Track & Field (23), Men’s Indoor Track & Field (21), Women’s Basketball (17), Women’s Outdoor Track & Field (17), Men’s Cross Country (15), Women’s Indoor Track & Field (13), Women’s Cross Country (9), Football (8), Women’s Soccer (6), Men’s Golf (5), Baseball (4), Men’s Basketball (3), Softball (3) and Men’s Soccer (2).
Additionally, all six of Liberty NCAA Division I individual national champions were captured while the Flames were members of the Big South: Heather Sagan (2002 Indoor Mile), Josh McDougal (2017 Men’s Cross Country), Sam Chelanga (2009 Men’s Cross Country, 2010 Men’s Cross Country, 2010 Outdoor 10,000 meters, 2011 Indoor 5,000 meters).
For the last three seasons, 17 of Liberty’s 20 NCAA Division I athletics programs have found a conference home as a member of the ASUN Conference (Football – FBS independent; Field Hockey – BIG EAST Conference; Women’s Swimming & Diving – Coastal Collegiate Sports Association).
Since joining the ASUN Conference, Liberty’s athletics teams have won 20 conference championships: Baseball (1: 2019), Men’s Basketball (3: 2018-19, 2019-20, 2020-21), Men’s Golf (1: 2021), Men’s Indoor Track & Field (3: 2019, 2020, 2021), Men’s Outdoor Track & Field (2: 2019, 2021), Men’s Tennis (1: 2,021), Softball (1: 2021), Women’s Indoor Track & Field (2: 2019, 2020), Women’s Basketball (1: 2019-20), Women’s Cross Country (2: 2021/Spring, 2021/Fall), Women’s Outdoor Track & Field (2: 2019, 2021) and Women’s Soccer (1: 2021/Spring).
Debuting in 1995, Conference USA teams have combined for 121 bowl appearances in football, 112 NCAA Tournament appearances in basketball, including three Final Fours, 77 NCAA baseball appearances, including six College World Series berths, 100 NCAA soccer tournament appearances including five trips to the College Cup, and 41 individual national champions in track and field and cross country.
The league celebrated its first team national championship with Marshall winning the 2020 Men’s Soccer College Cup with a thrilling overtime victory.
Success is not limited to athletic achievement as more than 265 Conference USA student-athletes have garnered CoSIDA Academic All-America® honors, and more than 877 have achieved academic all-district laurels and thousands of student-athletes have earned a college degree.
Conference USA currently sponsors competition in 20 sports – nine for men (baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, soccer, tennis and indoor and outdoor track and field) and 11 for women (basketball, beach volleyball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, indoor and outdoor track and field and volleyball).
“With this invitation to join Conference USA sports, there is no doubt that Liberty athletics is on the rise. Today marks a monumental achievement in Liberty’s 50 year history and helps fulfill one of the grand visions of my friend, Dr. Jerry Falwell, Sr. Our athletic program headed by Ian McCaw has seen tremendous growth and success in one of the most competitive eras of intercollegiate sports. I am proud of the efforts of his teams, our many coaches, and our student-athletes. I am looking forward to many more years of record-breaking success for our very bright and gifted Liberty University student-athletes.”
— Jerry Prevo
“On behalf of Liberty University, I want to thank Commissioner MacLeod and the leaders in Conference USA for this exciting opportunity. Today is another important advancement for our University, athletics program and Flames Nation. Liberty’s momentum and rapid upward trajectory in intercollegiate athletics will continue as we train Champions for Christ, provide a high quality student-athlete experience and achieve victory with integrity as future members of Conference USA.”
— Ian McCaw
Liberty University Director of Athletics
“We are incredibly excited about adding these four new members and feel there is tremendous upside in these moves for our conference. 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.”
— Judy MacLeod
Conference USA Commissioner