Major turnover

Rice Owls field new turf with move to American Athletic Conference

Rice Owls field new turf with move to American Athletic Conference

Rice University Football Athletics
Rice is one of six teams getting racing into a new conference. Photo by Tim Warner/Courtesy of Rice University Athletics

Rice University is moving to a new home. The school, just named the top in Texas, is one of six schools joining the American Athletic Conference.

The conference announced October 21 that Rice, the University of Texas at San Antonio, the University of North Texas in Denton, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte were approved for membership.

“We have been working diligently to position Rice as an attractive candidate when the next round of conference realignment began,” Rice Director of Athletics, Recreation and Lifetime Fitness Joe Karlgaard said in a statement.

“Today’s invitation to join the American Athletic Conference confirms our approach and aligns with our aspirations to offer an unparalleled experience for our students. The commitment to athletics by our university administration has been crucial to our efforts to move forward, and we’re very grateful for their close partnership. We have strong alignment as we embark on the next chapter in the history of Rice Athletics.”

The move will reunite Rice with former longtime rivals such as SMU and Tulane as well as with former Conference USA members East Carolina, Memphis and Tulsa, the school notes. Rice and the five other new member schools will join current members of The American, as the conference is known: East Carolina University, the University of Memphis, the United States Naval Academy, SMU, Temple University, Tulane, Tulsa, the University of South Florida and Wichita State University. 

The American will be a 14-team league in football, basketball and some other sports. 

“We’re thrilled to be joining the American Athletic Conference, and I am especially grateful to Joe Karlgaard for his steadfast leadership in positioning us for and seizing this opportunity,” said Rice president David Leebron in a statement. “We appreciate the strong support from Commissioner (Michael) Aresco and the university presidents. We are excited to be rejoining schools like Southern Methodist University, Tulane University and the University of Tulsa in an athletics conference, to play Navy on a more regular basis and to have the opportunity to participate in athletics with all the other members of the The American.

“Building on our strength in recent years, including many conference championships, membership in the The American will enable us to take the next steps in achieving our high aspirations for Rice Athletics.”

Press materials note that Rice was one of the original eight schools that formed the Southwest Conference in 1915 and was one of four founding members remaining in the league until its end in 1996. Rice was a member of the Western Athletic Conference from 1996 to 2005, when the Owls moved to Conference USA.

Known as the Ivy League of the South, Rice has spent nearly $54 million in facility upgrades and new construction projects directly benefitting each of its 16 sports, per its press office.

This major conference move comes amid the recent shake-up in the Big 12 Conference, which will lose the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma to the Southeastern Conference while gaining Brigham Young University, the University of Central Florida, the University of Cincinnati, and the University of Houston as members by 2024.