Around the Region

Analyzing the NJAC and E8's big moves

Christopher Newport, which has been successful in the USA South, will likely find this new NJAC a bigger challenge.
CNU athletics photo by Jesse Hutchenson

That rumble Monday morning was a seismic shift in D-III's Eastern football landscape.

In 2012, Wesley, Salisbury, Rowan and Christopher Newport made the 32-team playoffs, the Wolverines as a powerhouse independent, and the others representing three different conferences.

In 2015, they’ll be competing for one automatic bid.

The move to combine five core New Jersey Athletic Conference schools with five Capital Athletic Conference affiliate members from Delaware, Maryland and Virginia under the NJAC banner creates a 10-team power conference in the mid-Atlantic. The corresponding move of Morrisville State to the Empire 8, the last of four state schools in New York to transition from the NJAC, makes the E8 a nine-team conference with just as much claim to the title of most powerful Eastern football league.

“Sometimes when these moves happen, they weaken one conference or the other,” said E8 commissioner Chuck Mitrano, who along with the NJAC’s Terry Small will preside over a lineup that better follows geographic logic. “This is a win-win.”

It’s a win not just for both conferences, but for D-III and for common sense. Of the 245 schools expected to be playing football in 2015, all but two will be in conferences, and all but six will have access to the playoffs via an automatic bid.

Still, it’s the new NJAC lineup that’s going to open eyes.

“I think [the NJAC] is going to be a great football conference,” said Mike Drass, the football coach and athletic director at Wesley, which like CNU, Salisbury, Frostburg State and Southern Virginia, is a member of the CAC in other sports. “You have the New Jersey teams who traditionally have been strong and real physical. You have the Capital teams who have been all over the place, but Salisbury’s had a lot of success, Christopher Newport’s had a lot of success.”

Outside of Mount Union and UW-Whitewater, nobody’s had more success than Wesley, which has advanced at least to the national quarterfinals seven times in the past eight seasons.

Wesley hasn’t lost more than three games in a season in a decade, but among those rare defeats are road games against Rowan in 2013 and Kean in 2011, and a home loss to Montclair State in 2007. All three will become Wesley's conference rivals.

The forces combining in the NJAC have quite a playoff pedigree. Wesley’s been a national power, Christopher Newport has won or shared nine USA South titles since 2001, Salisbury joined the Empire 8 in 2011 and won it in its first two go-rounds, and four of the New Jersey five – Rowan, Kean, Montclair State, TCNJ and William Paterson –...

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Columnist

Keith McMillan

Keith McMilllan, who has been a columnist for D3football.com since 2000, has provided color commentary on D3football.com's national broadcasts of the Stagg Bowls. He played at Randolph-Macon in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference for four years and covered it for two more.

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