By Pat Coleman
The new-look New Jersey Athletic Conference and Empire 8 take the field this upcoming fall in Division III football. But before the rubber pellets settle, there will be a new set of conference changes coming.
The New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference, which has 11 members, eight of whom have undergraduate men's programs, has announced it will sponsor football starting with the 2017 season.
The current NEWMAC schools with football are Coast Guard, Springfield, MIT and WPI, which gives the conference the four core members necessary to even begin pursuing an automatic bid. The conference will be adding Maine Maritime, Merchant Marine and Norwich as affiliates in football in order to reach the seven necessary for an automatic bid.
"It gives me great pleasure to officially welcome Maine Maritime, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and Norwich University to the NEWMAC as associate members in the sport (of football)," NEWMAC Executive Director Patrick Summers said in a conference news release. "It has been a pleasure working with these institutions and the NEWMAC administrators to establish NEWMAC football. It was clear that their desire to uphold the NEWMAC's dedication to both academic and athletic excellence was sincere and made them ideal fit as pioneering members of this sport."
With those three affiliate members, and a two-year waiting period, the NEWMAC would be eligible for an automatic bid as soon as 2019.
Losing Merchant Marine, Springfield and WPI will leave the Liberty League short of the seven teams necessary to retain its automatic bid. Coast Guard, a former LL member, currently plays football in the New England Football Conference, as do Maine Maritime and MIT, and losing those two teams would drop the NEFC to five teams, two short of an automatic bid if nothing changes before 2019. Norwich leaving the ECFC leaves that conference with seven teams.
The NEFC had announced a split back in 2012, with its eyes on getting two automatic bids for its then-16 members. The NEFC's eight teams retained that automatic qualifier, while the nine teams that split off to form the MASCAC have finished their two-year waiting period and will get their first AQ this fall.
The University of New England is adding football, with an announced startup date of "as early as the fall of 2017." The remaining five schools in the NEFC are all also members of the Commonwealth Coast Conference, and the CCC could do the same thing the NEWMAC has just announced.
The 2017 lineup, as it stands right now, for affected conferences:
|Anna Maria||Hobart||Curry||Coast Guard|
|Husson||St. Lawrence||Western New England||Maine Maritime|
|Mount Ida||Merchant Marine|
|No change in AQ status.||Would lose AQ in 2019.||Would lose AQ in 2019.||Would gain AQ in 2019.|
If no further changes occur, this lineup could actually slightly alleviate the automatic bid crunch that is beginning to hit Division III football. The MASCAC will get an automatic bid for the first time this fall, as will the Southern Athletic Association. That will mean 25 of the 32 teams in the playoff field will be automatic bids.
In 2019, however, the Liberty League and NEFC would each lose their football automatic bids when the NEWMAC receives its bid. However, they could retain access to the playoffs as at-large teams, or the conferences could cooperate to form a 10-team football league under the Liberty League, Commonwealth Coast Conference or New England Football Conference banner and retain an automatic bid.
Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, Norwich, Springfield and WPI have shared a conference in football before. They were members of the Freedom Football Conference (along with Plymouth State and Western Connecticut) up until the end of the 2003 season, when they split to join already-existing conferences. For Coast Guard, this will be its fourth football affiliation since the automatic bid era began in Division III football in 1999.