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The very premise is preposterous.

Does Conference USA’s leadership actually believe it can force Marshall, Southern Miss and Old Dominion to compete in league sports during 2022-23 against their will?

I mean, really?

It is unimaginable.

Conference USA is behaving like this trio of schools signed a prenuptial agreement with the league, negating any grounds for divorce.

Good luck with that.

Yet, that is virtually what is happening. C-USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod has dug in her high heels and the league is categorically refusing to allow those three schools to leave Conference USA and join the Sun Belt Conference by June 30.

The crux of the matter?

Conference USA’s league bylaws require the trio of schools to stay and compete through the summer of 2023. The league is so adamant on that point, C-USA actually released the 2022 football schedule on Tuesday, which included games involving MU, Southern Miss and Old Dominion.

The league also released a statement accompanying the schedule.

“Conference USA intends to conduct the 2022-23 athletic year with the full 14 institution members intact,” the statement read. “The C-USA Board of Directors will exhaust all necessary legal actions to ensure all members meet their contractual obligations as defined by and agreed to in the Conference USA bylaws.”

Sounds like a threat to me.

Yet just exactly how does a league force a school to play a football game against its will? What a confounding premise.

It sounds as if C-USA believes its lawyers will be better than Marshall, Southern Miss and Old Dominion’s collective lawyers. Is that a challenge? A duel of restraining orders at 20 paces, perhaps?

Probably no collegiate league has ever had more members leave for more lucrative pastures than Conference USA. The list includes the University of Cincinnati, UCF, DePaul, East Carolina, Houston, Louisville, Marquette, Memphis, Saint Louis, South Florida, SMU, Texas Christian, Tulane and Tulsa.

Now, add Marshall, Southern Miss and Old Dominion to the list. And don’t forget Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UT-San Antonio, which will leave prior to the 2023 football season.

That means in Conference USA’s history of 27 years and counting it will have had 23 members leave. So, I would have thought C-USA would have been used to it by now.

But apparently not.

As a result, Conference USA refuses to negotiate with officials from Marshall, Southern Miss and Old Dominion. The trio of schools simply wants to know what the buyout is and they will pay it.

“But Conference USA won’t even come to the table,” said Marshall interim athletic director Jeff O’Malley.

That brings some relevant questions to mind. Does Conference USA really think it can get away with this? Does C-USA honestly believe it can force Marshall, Southern Miss and Old Dominion to play league games next football season? Is C-USA that blissfully unaware of the current transient nature of college athletics?

There are no “old-school” values anymore, yet that is precisely what Conference USA seems to be clinging to with its hard-line stance.

Is there any chance of that working?

No. When and if the Sun Belt releases its football schedule on March 1, that will bring ESPN into this confrontation as the league’s TV partner.

Who wants to bet this confrontation suddenly gets settled then?

Count me in.