Towson University's football program, which successfully stepped up its level of play to compete over three seasons in the Patriot League, will not change its affiliation anytime soon despite a possible overhaul of its former conference, the school's athletic director said.
The America East, the conference for the rest of Towson's 21 athletic teams, is considering a merger with the six schools left in the Colonial Athletic Association. Such a merger - which could take place in the next three to four weeks - would increase the league's membership to as many as 16 schools.
The America East does not offer football at this time, but a merger would create the possibility of a football conference with eight schools (Towson, Delaware, Hofstra, Northeastern, New Hampshire, Maine, James Madison and William and Mary). While the prospect of joining such a group might be appealing, Wayne Edwards, Towson's director of athletics, said his school is comfortable where it is with football.
"I don't think anything will change with football," Edwards said, noting that Towson is locked into its Patriot League schedule through 2009. With preferential financial aid packaging instead of outright scholarships, and with tie-ins to Ivy League schools, Edwards sees the Patriot League as a good fit for his program. "We're pleased with the schools we're dealing with," he said.
Schools along the Atlantic Coast began considering realignment after the CAA was forced to grapple with the loss of East Carolina to Conference USA, American to the Patriot League and Richmond to the Atlantic 10.
The last move scuttled the CAA's hopes of merging with the Southern Conference to form a 14-team league, so when the 2001-2002 academic season starts, the conference will have six members - George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth, James Madison, William and Mary, Old Dominion and North Carolina-Wilmington.
A conference wanting to receive an automatic bid to NCAA postseason competition will need at least seven core members starting in 2001, thus throwing the CAA into a desperate search for solutions. Joining the America East is one of those, which would create a league sprawling from Norfolk, Va., to Orono, Maine.
Last week, athletic directors from the America East discussed the topic during meetings in Orlando, Fla. Edwards said that while those present looked into ways such a merger might work, the conference hadn't extended an invitation, nor had the CAA presidents asked for one.
"There have been no decisions made," Edwards said.
Talks concerning the Colonial arose as the America East had been considering the additions of Albany and Stony Brook, a pair of New York State schools that have become Division I independents.
Though Albany interim athletic director Gail Cummings-Danson had been hopeful that her school would get an invitation from the America East, the conference chose not to take any action, presumably waiting to see what would happen with the CAA.
"If something comes up where we would be better off in expanding, we would take a look at that," Edwards said. "I don't think any one [of the current schools] is considering leaving. We're solid with the schools we have. ... We don't have to do anything."
The school presidents would make the final call on any expansion of the league, with eight votes necessary for approval. While the conference's power ratings would improve as a result of such a move, factors most likely discouraging a merger are increased travel costs, a lengthier league schedule and limits on how much the union would affect bids in NCAA postseason tournaments.
In some sports, such as men's basketball, it is likely that 15 schools could be competing for one bid, where they were once competing for two. And in that sport, the schedule probably would move from an already hefty 18 games to as many as 21.
Northern schools, such as Boston, were most concerned about the cost of trips to towns such as Williamsburg and Harrisonburg in Virginia. BU athletic director Gary Strickler, who admitted he had been leery about costs when Towson was being considered during the early 1990s, said he has the same concerns now.
"Travel costs will be a major thing; I need to be shown that expansion would not expand my travel costs greatly," Strickler said. "I was uncertain about what expenses would be [with the addition of Towson], but that seems to have worked out."
More pluses would come to the southern schools of the conference (Towson, Delaware and Drexel) in any arrangement. Edwards cited the name recognition in the Baltimore area of the Virginia schools, and a divisional setup would mean fewer trips to places such as Maine.