MIAMI -- Florida Atlantic and Florida International accepted invitations Thursday to join the Sun Belt Conference in football beginning next season, which will pave the way for their move to Division I-A.
Florida International is already a member of the Sun Belt in all other sports, and Florida Atlantic is a member of the Atlantic Sun. Both schools have been Division I-AA independents in football.
"That will certainly help our football program move to a higher level," Florida Atlantic president Frank Brogan said.
Florida Atlantic will join the Sun Belt in other sports at an undetermined date, possibly as soon as 2005, athletic director Craig Angelos said.
Florida International is located in suburban Miami, and Florida Atlantic is an hour north in Boca Raton.
Both schools would spend the 2004 and 2005 seasons as conditional I-A members before gaining full membership in 2006.
The NCAA requires a I-A school to play five home games against I-A opponents. Conference membership will help make that possible for both teams.
"Given the recent conference realignments and changes in NCAA guidelines, it is in our best interest to make the move now," Florida International athletic director Rick Mello said.
Florida Atlantic started playing football in 2001, and Florida International followed a year later.
Coached by Howard Schnellenberger, Florida Atlantic is 10-2 and faces Northern Arizona on Saturday for a spot in the Division I-AA semifinals. Florida International went 2-10 this season and finished with a 32-23 loss to Florida Atlantic.
The state of Florida currently has five I-A members. Florida A&M will become a conditional member next season.
The current Sun Belt membership for football is North Texas, Louisiana-Lafyette, Louisiana-Monroe, Middle Tennessee, Arkansas State, Utah State, New Mexico State and Idaho.
Utah State and New Mexico State will leave for the Western Athletic Conference in 2005. Troy State will join the Sun Belt next season.