Reports: Southern Miss accepts invite to join Sun Belt

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
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Southern Mississippi accepted an invitation to join the Sun Belt Conference on Friday, dealing another blow to Conference USA, which already had six members announce their departures this week.

Two people familiar with the decision told The Associated Press that Southern Miss had agreed to leave a conference it helped found in 1995 and join the Sun Belt at a date to be determined.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the Sun Belt was not yet prepared to make an announcement and was still working on more expansion moves that it did not want to address publicly.

Sun Belt Commissioner Keith Gill did not immediately return a message left by The AP.

Yahoo! Sports first reported Southern Miss had agreed to join the Sun Belt.

The Southern Miss news comes a day after the American Athletic Conference announced the additions of six C-USA schools – UAB, Charlotte, Rice, Florida Atlantic, North Texas and UTSA – also at a date to be determined.

Conference USA is down to seven schools committed to the league long-term – Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, Florida International, Marshall, Louisiana Tech and UTEP – and that could be dwindling as the Sun Belt continues to grow.

Various media outlets have reported the Sun Belt has interest in adding Marshall and Old Dominion, and has also discussed inviting FCS powerhouse James Madison.

The chairman of Marshall’s board of governors said in a tweet the university’s decision on conference affiliation will come after a new school president is in place next week.

“The Marshall Board of Governors will name a new president at next Thursday’s board meeting,” Patrick Farrell posted on Twitter. “We’re going to wait until the new president has a chance to provide input before making a decision about our athletics conference affiliation. We’re confident we are in a great position.”

C-USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod released a statement Friday that did not mention Southern Miss’ departure, but said the conference had a “strong core to build around.”

“There are several institutions interested in joining Conference USA, both across FBS and FCS, some of whom we’ve already met with in person,” MacLeod said. “Every step we take will be deliberate, strategically sound, and intentional. We will take the necessary time to add future members that will be the best fit from an athletic and academic standpoint and allow prospective institutions time to complete their process. We continue to believe in the regional concept and will look to incorporate that into our structure and scheduling. There are certainly many questions out there, but a great deal is happening behind the scenes. When appropriate, we will release more information, though out of respect for those involved, we will continue to operate outside of the public space.”

Earlier this month, MacLeod sent a letter to AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco proposing a merger of sorts between the two far-flung conferences. The AAC had no interest and instead poached nearly half of C-USA.

Southern Miss, located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, fits perfectly in the Sun Belt’s smaller footprint, between Alabama-based schools Troy and South Alabama to the east and Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette to the west.

USM’s football has a history of success that dates back decades, including Brett Favre leading the Golden Eagles to upsets of Florida State, Alabama and Auburn during his career from 1987-90. Southern Miss won four C-USA titles early in the conference’s existence.

As the composition of C-USA changed, Southern Miss lost many of its longtime rivals such as Louisville, Memphis, Houston and Tulane, and the program has slipped in relevance.

The Sun Belt offers a chance for Southern Miss to decrease travel costs and build new regional rivalries.

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.