Georgia Southern University announced on Wednesday it is moving from the Southern Conference to the Sun Belt Conference effective in 2014.
Georgia Southern has fielded one of the most successful programs in Football Championship Subdivision history, with a record six national titles since 1985 and 10 Southern Conference championships since becoming a member in 1993.
In rising to the Bowl Subdivision level, Georgia Southern is expected to be joined in the Sun Belt by fellow SoCon football member Appalachian State, which has called a 4 p.m. ET news conference on Wednesday.
Both schools would make the move in all sports except men's soccer in the 2014-15 school year, although the football programs will not be eligible for bowl games until the 2015 season.
The Sun Belt does not sponsor men's soccer, so Georgia Southern and Appalachian State would have to find another conference home for their teams.
"This is a milestone day for Georgia Southern University, and we are very excited to be joining the Sun Belt conference," Georgia Southern president Brooks Keel told a standing-room-only crowd in the Williams Center during the official announcement.
"This decision was made with the long-term interest of our university in mind," Keel continued. "The Sun Belt will provide our student-athletes with an outstanding opportunity to compete at a highest level, and we are excited to contribute to the conference's success both on and off the field. I am equally excited about the opportunity that it will provide Georgia Southern and the more than 75,000 alumni that make up the Eagle Nation."
Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson visited Georgia Southern Wednesday morning as the university formally accepted the Sun Belt invitation.
Southern Conference commissioner John Iamarino, in a statement from the conference, said, "While we're disappointed to be losing Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, the Southern Conference cannot provide the platform their football programs are seeking. We'll wish them well when they depart.
"Our membership discussions with our presidents, chancellors and athletic directors will continue as they have for the past 18 months and figure to be more focused on specific options with this most recent development. There are quality institutions interested in speaking with us regarding conference membership, and our options remain solid."
Georgia Southern's 2013 football schedule will remain intact, but the Eagles will not be eligible for either the SoCon championship or an FCS playoff bid. They have been FCS national semifinalists in each of the past three seasons under coach Jeff Monken.
Appalachian State also has been a perennial national title contender and is the only program to have won three straight FCS titles (2005-07).
Both programs will begin playing Sun Belt games and be revenue-sharing members of the conference in 2014 and eligible for the Sun Belt conference title, but will not be eligible to play in a bowl game. In 2015, they will become full members of the conference and be bowl eligible.