Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Realignmentaggedon: Monmouth, Quinnipiac and Wagner to the MAAC

According to sportswriter Mark Blaudshun, a 30+ year beat veteran of college football now residing in New Jersey, a key move was made by two schools, Monmouth University and Wagner College, that affects the FCS football landscape next season.

"Conference reconfiguration continues on all levels," the short blog post stated.  "According to the sources familiar with the process, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference will add Quinnipiac, Wagner and Monmouth from the Northeast Conference. The announcement will be made on Friday."

In and of itself the announcement doesn't directly affect the Patriot League.  But it might.

With their move to the MAAC, a conference which does not sponsor football, the Seahawks and Hawks now have to make a decision on their football programs.

Monmouth's program, led by long time head coach Kevin Callahan, is best known for developing NFL-caliber players like Cowboys WR Miles Austin

And Wagner's program, led by legendary head coach Walt Hameline, made noise this past season with their first-ever appearance in the FCS playoffs, beating Colgate soundly and giving a former national champion, Eastern Washington, a mighty scare before falling in the 4th quarter.

In terms of football options, they could choose to re-apply as a non-voting member to the NEC in football only, remaining at their limited scholarship level of 40.

They could also choose to apply for an affiliate membership to another conference, though, and you've got to believe the Patriot League could be in that mix.

If one or both are thinking about choosing a conference that can allow up to 60-63 football scholarships, the Hawks and Seahawks have three realistic possibilities in their footprint: the CAA, the Big South, and Patriot League.  (The Pioneer Football League is also a possibility, but they are a non-scholarship league.)

If they join the CAA, the membership of that league would be 13 members, including a former NEC member in Albany and another nearby program in Stony Brook.  Historically the CAA has been one of the top conferences in FCS.  But it's a very large conference that stretches all the way from Orono, Maine to Virginia.

They could join the Big South, a conference stuck at six members with the loss of Stony Brook to the CAA, but like the CAA it's a very far-flung conference with members down in the Carolinas.

No 60 scholarship conference would be a better fit geographically for Monmouth and Wagner than the Patriot League, nestling perfectly south between Lehigh, Lafayette, and Fordham.  Furthermore, if both went to the Patriot League their membership would be nine members - five full-time members, and four associates - that would be perfect for scheduling.

But Wagner and Monmouth would have to accept an academic index on football recruits - how would coach Callahan and Hameline feel about that?

Also - and this, unfortunately, is always in play when it comes to the Patriot League - would the Patriot League presidents and athletic directors accept them?  Some fans choked when Loyola (MD) was accepted in the league in all sports (they don't sponsor football).  Academically, would Monmouth and Wagner be accepted by the same fans?

To this reporter, competitively, Monmouth and Wagner make eminent sense in the Patriot League in football.  They fit the profile of a Patriot League school in the sense they are small, private schools with the same enrollments as Patriot League schools (Monmouth has 4,700 undergrads; Wagner, 2,000).  The question is: what will Wagner and Monmouth do?

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