The Atlantic Sun Conference had taken steps toward establishing itself as a notable Football Championship Subdivision league in the past 10 months.
However, it took a significant step backwards.
Conference USA, which has lost nine members this year to conference realignments, announced the addition of four new members on Friday. Come July 2023, Jacksonville State, Liberty, Sam Houston State and New Mexico State will be a part of C-USA.
Jacksonville State and Sam Houston become the second and third FCS programs to make a jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision in the recent realignment. James Madison, which had been reported as an addition to the Sun Belt Conference, officially announced Saturday that it would be joining the league by 2023.
For both the ASUN and recently added member University of Central Arkansas, it's the first sign of recent FBS realignment to directly affect them, as ASUN members Jacksonville State and Liberty head to the FBS.
"Nothing's sacred anymore," UCA Athletic Director Brad Teague said with a chuckle. "It's just a crazy time with all the movement. And to think it all started with Texas and Oklahoma."
Teague said the ASUN had known C-USA was reaching out to schools both in its conference and the Western Athletic Conference, and that Liberty and Jacksonville State were set to leave the conference for about a week prior to the move being announced.
Liberty moved its football program from the FCS and the Big South Conference to an FBS independent in 2018, but 17 of its 20 total sports found a new home in the ASUN.
Jacksonville State's move to the FBS comes after less than a year in the ASUN. The Gamecocks arrived to the conference with an official announcement on Jan. 29, alongside both UCA and Eastern Kentucky.
The intent was for the ASUN to begin sponsoring football with the schools' additions, eventually expanding to eight football-playing members.
Jacksonville State, UCA and Eastern Kentucky brought the ASUN's football-playing membership total to five schools, along with Kennesaw State and North Alabama. Kennesaw and North Alabama joined the ASUN in 2005 and 2018, respectively, though each has been playing football in the Big South Conference. Neither will be playing football for the ASUN until next fall.
The ASUN also added Austin Peay in September, with the intent of having it play football in the conference games in the fall. Austin Peay's addition gave the ASUN its sixth football-playing member, which meant it'd have an automatic qualifier for the FCS playoffs. However, that number goes back to five with Jacksonville State's departure.
Teague said he's still confident the ASUN can get to eight teams by 2023. That expansion won't come without hurdles, not only from the fallout of Jacksonville State's move, but from conference realignment moving forward.
"A greater concern for me right now is if Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee leave and go to the [Mid-American Conference], then C-USA comes looking for more FCS programs," Teague said. "So, do we lose another, potentially?"
Multiple outlets have reported that both Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State, both C-USA programs, are likely to leave the conference for the MAC, which would mean 11 of the C-USA's 14 members have announced recent moves.
What that means for the ASUN, Teague said, is that it'll likely have to be less selective in which schools it adds moving forward.
"There's still some great programs out there, but we were just trying to be more selective and trying to be the elite football program in the country," Teague said. "It's really just more work to do. That's all it is. And we're going to get to our goals and we're going have a great conference."