January 30, 2014

Cortland to join archrival in Empire 8

In the definitive response to those who would cancel the Cortaca Jug game because of its rowdy crowds, Cortland State and Ithaca's annual game will now be an Empire 8 conference game.
Photo for Cortland athletics by Darl Zehr Photography

The Cortland State football team will join the Empire 8 as an affiliate member at the start of the 2015 season.

Cortland will join Brockport, Buffalo State, Frostburg State and Salisbury as affiliate members of the E8 in the sport of football. Full members Alfred, Hartwick, Ithaca, St. John Fisher and Utica comprise the remainder of the football playing institutions in the league.

"Cortland is a strong academic institution with a rich football history with many of the Empire 8 institutions,” said Empire 8 Commissioner Chuck Mitrano. “They are a perfect fit and further enhance the competitive level of what is already the toughest conference in Division III."

Cortland has been a football-only member of the New Jersey Athletic Conference since 2000. Cortland was the first non-New Jersey school to join the NJAC for football and was later joined as affiliate members by Western Connecticut State, Buffalo State, Brockport and Morrisville. Buffalo State, however, joined the Empire 8 in 2012 and Brockport will play its first season in the Empire 8 this fall. Western Connecticut joined the newly formed Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference football league in 2013.

 “Cortland is excited to have the opportunity to play football in the Empire 8 conference,” said Cortland president Erik J. Bitterbaum. “The schools in this conference are outstanding both athletically and academically, and we look forward to this new beginning for Red Dragon football.”

Familiar foes

Cortland has faced some of its future Empire 8 opponents on a regular basis, while others haven't played the Red Dragons in some time, if at all. The last time Cortland has met each of its future conference opponents in football:
Ithaca 2013
Alfred 2013
St. John Fisher 2013
Buffalo State 2013
Brockport  2013
Utica 2003
Salisbury 1983
Hartwick 1950
Frostburg State Never

“We look forward to meeting new challenges in the Empire 8 and to creating new relationships with some of these institutions that are so close to us geographically but that we haven't had the opportunity to compete against on a regular basis in years past,” said Cortland athletic director Mike Urtz. “We hope we can bring added value to an already great and highly competitive conference.”

Cortland has finished at least tied for first in the NJAC six of the last nine years (2005-08, 2010, 2012). The Red Dragons were outright league champions in 2008 and 2012 and won a tiebreaker to earn the league's NCAA automatic bid in 2010.

In all, Cortland has qualified for the NCAA playoffs eight times – three consecutive years from 1988-90, along with appearances in 1997, 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2012. The Red Dragons advanced to the national quarterfinals in 1988 and 2008. Cortland has also been selected to compete in ECAC bowl games 11 times.

“It's an exciting time for Cortland football as we embrace change,” said Red Dragons coach Dan MacNeill.  “Thanks to the Empire 8 for accepting Cortland football into their prestigious conference, where we look to build stronger relationships with familiar competitors and establish new regional rivalries.”

Empire 8 football teams finished 21-10 in non-conference play in 2013 and have a mark of 259-122 against non-conference Division III opponents since 2002 for a .680 winning percentage. There have been 33 postseason victories in the last 12 seasons with reigning conference champion Ithaca advancing to the second round and at-large selection St. John Fisher advancing to the national quarterfinals in 2013.

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