Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Sunbelt--Searching for Number 12

A lot has happened since I took an extended hiatus from sports blogging.  Rather than try to recap it all I'm just going to jump right in with a current realignment issue.  The Sunbelt is currently set to have 11 members next season, 9 of whom play football.  They have also graciously extended football only invitations to the final two WAC refugees New Mexico St and Idaho bringing their football membership up to 11.  11 is a really pointless number of members to have--you can't have a championship game and you reduce the likelihood of each member winning a championship as well as dilute rivalries.  This seems especially silly when you consider that your two affiliates in football are big geographic outliers.  So lets consider options for membership:

James Madison---They want to be an FBS school. They have the means to be an FBS school. The problem is they want to be in the same conference as Old Dominion and right now ODU is in C-USA and C-USA isn't issuing invitations.  The SBC isn't even their second choice--they are intrigued by the idea that the MAC might expand east and they could go there, potentially with nearby Delaware.

Liberty--Liberty has also gone on record stating that they would like to move up.  Much like James Madison, they are North and East of the existing footprint.  There are also some concerns about Liberty's religious affiliation which is preventing them from being a contender for the SBC opening.

Lamar--Lamar is almost ready to go to FBS but the problem with Lamar is that the SBC needs a new member in the East not the West.

Jacksonville St--The Gamecocks could potentially make the jump but they would be a third Alabama school and I don't think the SBC wants that especially Troy and South Alabama.

an HBCU like Tennessee St or Florida A&M--These schools each have a ton of fan support and would fit in the footprint and fulfill that Eastern need but I don't think either school has the money to upgrade and for Florida A&M I don't think they want to break from tradition and stop playing a conference slate of primarily other HBCU's.

I think the logical solution for the SBC is to hold at 11 and either consider bringing in UMass as a football affiliate or dropping Idaho.  UMass at the moment is sitting their football program in the MAC but according to the internet rumor the MAC is pushing UMass to either commit for all-sports or leave.  The Atlantic Ten, UMass's home for their other sports, is a better league in the MAC so I don't UMass is going to want to make that move.  The Sunbelt could give them a no-strings attached football affiliateship for a few years until they either find a more suitable home for all their sports (they want in the AAC but right now it seems UConn is blocking them) or decide that FBS football isn't working out and go back to FCS.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Modest Expansion Proposal for the CAA

I'm going to take a break from my examination of each of the NCAA Division I conferences to take a look at the CAA's situation after losing George Mason to the Atlantic Ten.  I actually think losing Mason could turn out to be a good thing.  It opens up the possibility to add Davidson and TWO more additional southern schools near Davidson.  Creating a comfortable southern division for Davidson might be exactly what it takes for the CAA to land the Wildcats.  Things are unstable in Davidson's current home; between losing Charleston a few months ago and Georgia Southern and Appalachian St's recent announcement that they are going to the Sunbelt the SoCon only has nine members and the SoCon's expansion candidates don't have the academic clout or basketball pedigree that the CAA members do.

I think the two schools to add are Elon and UNC Greensboro.  Elon is a large private school who probably can find the resources to make the move and UNC Greensboro gives the CAA another UNC campus and another school in Davidson's backyard.

The CAA would look like this:

North--Northeastern, Hofstra, Drexel, Delaware, Towson, James Madison
South--William & Mary, Elon, UNC Greensboro, Davidson, UNC Wilmington, Charleston

It gives the CAA a nice assortment of private schools and upscale public institutions.

in order to sell the Northern members on this expansion plan I think its necessary to demonstrate to them that in order to survive as a league and keep their television contract they have to have Davidson and this is what must be done in order to get them.  I think you also promise that if and when James Madison leaves for a FBS conference that they will be replaced with a truly northern school--perhaps Siena or Stony Brook.

Here's what this moves for CAA football:

North--Maine*, New Hampshire*, Rhode Island*, Albany*, Stony Brook*, Villanova*
South--Delaware, Towson, James Madison, Richmond*, William & Mary, Elon

This too is a nice set up that keeps everyone together and happy.  But here's one caveat, since the NCAA considers 7 schools to be a FCS conference CAA could work in conjunction with America East to make CAA football two leagues.  Here's how:

None of the Northern Division football schools are full members of the CAA, they are all affiliates and four of the six belong to America East.  America East could pick up sponsorship of the sport a couple of ways.  Monmouth's recent move from the NEC, who sponsors FCS football albeit with far fewer than the maximum 65 scholarships, to the more prestigiuous MAAC, who doesn't sponsor football, has left their football program somewhat isolated as an affiliate of the Big South.  Adding Monmouth as a football affiliate would give America East their 7th member.  It would also open the door for Wagner to do the same with their program if a MAAC invitation ever materializes--they nearly got one a couple months ago.  The other thing that America East could do is add Central Connecticut St as a full member.  They play football but are currently an odd fit as the lone public school in a private school league.

As for the CAA's 7th football school they could simply swap out UNC Greensboro, who doesn't play football, with a SoCon school like Furman or Wofford who does.  The other route they could take is to keep Villanova as a CAA football affiliate (instead of giving them to America East) and have America East add both Monouth (fb only) and Central Connecticut St (full member).

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

State of the Conference: The Atlantic Sun Conference

The Atlantic Sun Conference is at the bottom of the totem pole as far as NCAA Division I conferences in the Southeastern United States go.  The league does not sponsor football although a few of its members field non-scholarship football teams or plan to do so.  It's members are:

Northern Kentucky
East Tennessee St
USC Upstate
Kennesaw St
North Florida
Florida Gulf Coast

Schools in Blue are private.

As a feeder league it will likely lose programs to the leagues above them in prestige, particularly the Big South and SoCon.  They will likely have to bring in NCAA Division II teams to maintain the minimum of 7 teams.

State of the Conference: The Big South Conference

Staying in the Southeastern United States, the next conference I will look at is the Big South Conference.  Right now it has 12 members--4 in each of the states of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina for a neat geographic footprint.  The Big South plays FCS football.  Its members are:

Virginia Military Institute
High Point*
UNC Ashville*
Coastal Carolina
Charleston Southern

Schools in Blue are private.
* Non-Football school

Stable for now, this league's football schools will soon be courting the SoCon if they haven't started already. It's hard to say who the leading candidates would be.  Coastal Carolina has a solid program that would fit with the SoCon's geography.  Liberty is also strong but they are further north and they are evangelical which might be a turn-off for some of the SoCon's members.  Gardner-Webb, while not having an exceptional program, is similar in profile to the private schools in the SoCon.

As far as schools potentially entering the Big South I think the schools in the Atlantic Sun who field are or planning to field football teams are the most likely.

State of the Conference; The Southern Conference (SoCon)

The Southern Conference was once the home of many of the SEC and ACC programs but today its a highly respected FCS conference with schools in primarily in the Carolinas but with one member in the states of Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.  It is home to 11 members as a result of the announced departure of College of Charleston.  It's a mix of public and private institutions and 2 (previously 3) members do not play football in the league:

Appalachian St
UNC Greensboro*
Western Carolina
UT Chattanooga
The Citadel
Georgia Southern

Private schools are in Blue

The SoCon is a league that is going to lose members--FCS football superpowers Georgia Southern and Appalachian St are leading candidates for the FBS Sunbelt Conference.  The CAA, if it can hold together, has been looking at Davidson with longing eyes for a long time and they would be willing to admit another Carolina school like UNC Greensboro or Elon to accommodate them.  The A-10 might also be interested in the Wildcats.  If this league were to take heavy hits it could cause UT Chattanooga to petition the Ohio Valley Conference for admission as the two schools would fit into their footprint.

As far as schools that could join the SoCon, East Tennessee St would like to re-enter the league after being exiled to the OVC after dropping football.  OVC member Jacksonville St might also have an interest in the league.  I would consider every Big South school as having an interest in the SoCon with the football playing members being the most likely to be included.  The members of the Atlantic Sun Conference would probably like to be in this league too but their chances are much slimmer with maybe the exception of Georgia schools Mercer and Kennesaw St.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

State of the Conference: Colonial Athletic Association

My last post was on the A-10 which nicely transitions into a conversation on the CAA.  The CAA is in some ways a less sexy A-10--they have similar geographic footprints but the A-10 outshines the CAA.  The CAA is also a power conference at the FCS level but this status is in jeopardy as only 4 full-time members play the  sport and 4 members of America East are affiliates in that sport.  The CAA's full-time members are:

George Mason
James Madison
William & Mary
UNC Wilmington
College of Charleston

Schools in blue are private
School underlined play CAA football

Football affiliates include: Maine, New Hampshire, Albany, Stony Brook, Villanova, and Richmond.

The CAA is an oddity because its members have such diverse interests.  There are private schools and public ones, football schools and basketball schools, northern schools and southern schools all trying to find common cause in the same league.  For this reason I think this league is somewhat vulnerable, particularly if one wing of the conference is not willing to put aside their own interests in favor of the good of the whole to keep the league going.  There are numerous flight risks--over the half the league, in one shape or another, is a candidate for the A-10.  James Madison and possibly Delaware have FBS football aspirations,and the Patriot League has made no secret that they would like to have William & Mary.

Even if this league were to keep its membership intact its hard to say who their best expansion bets would be. They were recently unsuccessful in their bid to land Davidson but if the league lost a couple more northern schools (presumably to the A-10) they might have the room to accommodate the schools that Davidson would require as companions.  Ultimately, I think Davidson is not going to be able to stay in the SoCon forever, not with the speculation that the league will soon be gutted by the Sunbelt for its two top football programs.

I should at least consider the possibility of Northern expansion.  These candidates are many of the same that the A-10 would be looking at--Stony Brook, Albany, Siena, and perhaps other MAAC schools.