W Kentucky headed to Conference USA; Tulsa leaving

STEPHEN HAWKINS AP Sports Writer Published:

IRVING, Texas (AP) -- Western Kentucky and new football coach Bobby Petrino will be switching leagues after his first season with the Hilltoppers.

Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky said Monday that Western Kentucky will officially join the league July 1, 2014.

"The tradition of the university and its athletics success is truly remarkable," Banowsky said. "The men's basketball program has made seven NCAA appearances since 2000, the women's basketball program has advanced to three NCAA Final Fours and football went to a bowl game last season in just its fourth year in the BCS."

C-USA, however, is losing Tulsa.

A person familiar with the decision said Tulsa was expected to announce Tuesday that it will join the Big East football schools in their soon-to-be renamed league in 2014. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because an announcement had not been made.

With the addition of Tulane, East Carolina and now Tulsa, the conference will have 12 members in 2015 when Navy joins for football only. Tulsa follows a steady stream of ex-Conference USA teams headed to the league -- including regional rivals Houston and SMU.

The Golden Hurricane, who joined C-USA in 2005 after leaving the WAC, won last year's football championship in the league and recently claimed the women's basketball tournament title while hosting both hoops tourneys.

When the Hilltoppers officially move, they will be the fifth team in a year to switch from the Sun Belt Conference to C-USA.

Current Sun Belt members Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, Florida International and North Texas are leaving for Conference USA this summer, a year before the Hilltoppers re-join them.

Conference USA is expanding to 14 football teams in time for the 2013 season, even as five of its current teams -- Tulsa, SMU, Houston, UCF and Memphis -- leave for the Big East.

Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said Western Kentucky's decision "is not a surprise given the communication that I have had with university officials and the rampant speculation over the past several months." Benson said he has long understood the implications of the move and that the Sun Belt has been preparing for this possibility for quite some time.

The Sun Belt last week added Appalachian State and Georgia Southern as all sports members and Idaho and New Mexico State as football-only members.

Petrino was hired in December as Western Kentucky's new football coach. That came nine months after he was fired by Arkansas following an accident in which the coach was injured while riding a motorcycle with his mistress -- and newly hired football program employee -- as a passenger.

Petrino took over at WKU for Willie Taggart, who left to become South Florida's coach. Western Kentucky gave Petrino a four-year deal.


AP College Football Writers Ralph D. Russo and Jeff Latzke contributed to this report.