The Charlotte 49ers are heading back to Conference USA.
A source with knowledge of the football-driven situation confirmed to the Observer on Tuesday afternoon that the 49ers will return to the league they played in from 1995-2005. The announcement could come as soon as Friday, according to a report on CBSSports.com, which first reported Tuesday that the 49ers will be joined by four other schools in an expanded CUSA – North Texas, Florida International, Texas-San Antonio and Old Dominion.
49ers athletics director Judy Rose neither confirmed nor denied the move on Tuesday, but said that Conference USA officials met with Charlotte officials earlier in the day. That was the second time in recent weeks the two had met.
The addition of the five schools would bring Conference USA’s membership to 14. The league – which recently lost Memphis, Southern Methodist, Central Florida and Houston to the Big East – currently has East Carolina, Marshall, Alabama-Birmingham, Rice, UTEP, Tulane, Tulsa and Louisiana Tech and Southern Mississippi as its members.
The timing of Charlotte’s move is not known. The 49ers begin playing football in 2013 as an FCS (formerly I-AA) independent and must stay at that level for at least two years before moving up to FBS. Charlotte’s other sports programs could conceivably join CUSA earlier than that.
And it appears the Atlantic 10, Charlotte’s current league which has recently lost Temple to the Big East, is prepared to absorb another defection as it is reportedly considering adding Butler, Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason.
And more news is probably coming: It is expected that Conference USA will merge with the Mountain West sometime later this spring, forming an alliance that would span the country.
Charlotte played in Conference USA from 1995-2005, but had to leave the conference because it didn’t have a football program. The 49ers had men’s basketball rivalries with schools like Louisville, Memphis and Cincinnati at the time – but they’ve all left the league for the Big East since then.