It seems fitting the Colonial Athletic Association Football Conference has again looked northward to help solidify its ranks.
The recently announced additions of Stony Brook and the University at Albany for 2013 speaks volumes about the quality of football being played in the Northeast. It also seems to indicate those programs, along with the universities of Maine and New Hampshire, are part of the CAA’s long-term plan.
As recently as a year ago, there was concern in these parts the CAA might be considering severing its ties with Northeast schools. The addition of Old Dominion (Va.) and Georgia State had shifted the balance of power even farther south for a league whose home base is Richmond, Va.
Then, the announced departures of Massachusetts to the Football Bowl Subdivision and Rhode Island to the Northeast Conference left UMaine and UNH as the only remaining New England schools in the CAA football ranks among former Yankee Conference charter members.
However, changes have come fast and furious for CAA football. Old Dominion and Georgia State announced their intention to pursue FBS fortunes, which meant the CAA would have been down to eight teams starting in 2013.
The CAA acted quickly in identifying Albany and Stony Brook as two up-and-coming Football Championship Subdivision programs that might help the conference maintain its reputation as a national power. And they brought them on board.
UMaine and UNH, which have been closely allied in their efforts to remain viable members of the CAA, have been rewarded for their persistence and patience.
The addition of Stony Brook and Albany has huge implications for both UMaine and UNH.
First, all four are full members of the America East Conference, which does not sponsor football, and are the only league schools to offer the sport at present. The familiarity of those programs with each other, and the relationships already established among their coaches and administrators, should help them maintain a significant voice in how the CAA proceeds.
Surely, more changes are forthcoming during this era of constant fluctuations in conference membership.
Among those could be a return to the CAA by the University of Rhode Island football program, which had committed to join the Northeast Conference in 2013. That decision came after geographic neighbors Northeastern (Boston) and Hofstra (N.Y.) dropped football altogether.
URI officials have indicated the school might reconsider its departure given the influx of Albany and Stony Brook.
The return of URI would give the CAA five teams in the Northeast, including three in New England. In addition to some long-established gridiron rivalries, it would seem to clear the way for a North-South divisional system that also would help alleviate some travel concerns for UMaine and UNH.
The Black Bears would easily be able to drive to UNH, URI and Albany and could even consider making the eight- or nine-hour bus trek to Long Island rather than flying.
The travel expense to play road contests at Villanova (Pa.) Delaware, Towson (Md.), Richmond, William & Mary and James Madison (all in Virginia) remains considerable. However, it appears to give UMaine a fighting chance.
The only way the Black Bears’ football scenario could get any sweeter would be if another America East school, such as Hartford, decided to start fielding a football team.
Regardless, expect the changes will continue. For now, UMaine seems to be well-positioned to comfortably continue its football affiliation with the CAA.