Rice University announced Thursday (Oct. 21) that it will move from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference, its fourth affiliation since helping create the Southwest Conference in 1915. The effective date hasn’t yet been determined, but the Rice Thresher student newspaper said “multiple” Owls coaches indicated it could be in 2023.
Athletic Director Joe Karlgaard gushed to the Thresher over the move, calling it “an unbelievable day for Rice athletics” and saying it “checks all three boxes” of the school’s requirements — academic values, geography and tradition.
The move came together in “a really intensive six- or seven-week process,” according to Karlgaard, who was credited by Rice President David Leebron with making the move happen. Rice applied to join the AAC Tuesday, and the application was approved Wednesday.
In all, six C-USA schools are making the move, with the University of Texas-San Antonio, University of Alabama-Birmingham, University of North Caroline-Charlotte, University of North Texas, and Florida Atlantic University joining Rice. Owls teams will once again play longtime rivals Tulane and SMU, and former C-USA opponents Tulsa, East Carolina and Memphis.
This is the latest move in conference realignment, which started with UT-Austin and Oklahoma University leaving the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference, and the Big 12 recruiting the University of Houston, University of Cincinnati and University of Central Florida from the AAC.
The AAC is now based in Dallas and will include four Texas schools. Highly regarded, its members’ television contracts pay out $7 million to each campus, compared to less than a half-million paid C-USA schools, according to the Thresher.
Rice’s head football coach, Mike Bloomgren, said he expects the move to help recruiting. “Joining the American means going into one of the top six conferences for football in the nation,” he told the newspaper.