UD confirms Conference USA jump in 2025
NEWARK – The University of Delaware confirmed Tuesday afternoon that it will move to college sports’ highest level by joining Conference USA (C-USA), a top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conference, in 2025.
“UD ranks among the nation’s leading public research institutions and is recognized nationally for delivering exceptional professional outcomes for our students,” University of Delaware President Dennis Assanis said in a statement announcing the move. “Joining Conference USA will present opportunities to not only broaden exposure of our athletics programs, but also enhance awareness and visibility of our excellent academic offerings, our ground-breaking research initiatives and our enduring impact on our community and the world.”
The university confirmed the news leaked by national sports reporters Monday and released a splashy announcement video voiced by legendary UD quarterback and retired NFL MVP Rich Gannon, suggesting that the school has been preparing for the announcement for some time.
The Blue Hens will compete in Conference USA in baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, cross country, football, men’s and women’s golf, women’s soccer, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, track & field, and volleyball.
Seven other programs, including field hockey, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s soccer, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and rowing, are not offered by Conference USA, and therefore UD will need to find a conference for them. Remaining in the school’s current Coastal Athletic Association, in the second-tier Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), for those programs is an option.
The university is hosting a press conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday to further discuss the move that is effective July 1, 2025.
“The opportunity to join Conference USA is a very proud moment for our entire university,” Director of Athletics, Community, and Campus Recreation Chrissi Rawak said in a statement. “With this step forward, we will continue to offer an incredible student-athlete experience and elevate the visibility of all that is remarkable about UD. We couldn’t be more excited for the entire state of Delaware and how this will bring the 302 together.”
In Conference USA, UD will compete in a conference of schools that currently spans as far west as New Mexico and as far south as Miami, Fla.
Member schools for football include Florida International University, Jacksonville State University in Alabama, Liberty University in Virginia, Louisiana Tech University, Middle Tennessee State University, New Mexico State University, Sam Houston State University in Texas, the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and Western Kentucky University. Starting next year, Georgia’s Kennesaw State University is joining the conference as well.
“Adding the University of Delaware is a tremendous opportunity for Conference USA as we strategically position ourselves for continued success,” Conference USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod said in a statement. “We are excited to add the state’s flagship university with its rich history in athletics and academics and look forward to our partnership with President Dennis Assanis, Director of Athletics Chrissi Rawak, and their leadership group.”
UD leaders have been planning for a move to the FBS for years, as evidenced by a $60 million upgrade to the school’s football stadium to build the Whitney Athletic Center and a new $85 million campaign to build an indoor practice/office facility connected to a newly enclosed north end of Delaware Stadium, according to The News Journal.
The university reportedly conducted “a thorough feasibility study” on the move before determining that “the time is now for Delaware Athletics to compete at a higher level,” Rawak said in a letter to athletics supporters. UD hired CarrSports Consulting to complete a feasibility study, EConsult Solutions Inc. to complete an economic impact study, and Judy Sweet to complete a Title IX and gender equity study.
A move to C-USA also comes with the biggest price tag in FCS history, as UD officials announced that the cost of all associated fees totals $6 million, which would be funded by donors.
The move to FBS would be lucrative from the start for UD though, as the TV broadcast rights deal for C-USA is worth significantly more.
Last year, C-USA signed a five-year media rights contract with CBS Sports Network and ESPN that would provide an estimated $800,000 to each school per year, according to the Sports Business Journal. Meanwhile, the CAA signed a four-year extension worth more than $10 million with FloSports and CBS Sports in February, which provided member schools about $100,000 and the right to sell additional game broadcasts to local channels.
The move to C-USA would take two years, and while UD could compete in the FCS next year it would not be eligible for the subdivision’s annual playoff bracket. That means its current run, which continues Saturday against No. 2 University of Montana, would be its final chance to win another FCS title.
Once joining C-USA in 2025, Delaware would be eligible to win the conference’s football regular season title, but it would have to wait until 2026 to win its postseason championship or to be eligible to play in a postseason bowl game.
UD officials also noted that previously scheduled games beyond the 2024 season would need to be negotiated in lieu of its new schedule, which could affect a previously announced game against Penn State University in 2027 as well as games against Delaware State University from 2025 to 2029, as it is unusual for FBS schools to travel to FCS schools for games.
One change likely coming to football in Newark is the arrival of midweek games, as UD has gotten used to Saturday football at the FCS level. Meanwhile, C-USA has embraced midweek football games in part to get more national TV coverage on ESPN and CBS, playing 20 games this season between Tuesday and Friday.