March 3, 2014

NJAC goes big for 2015


Could Wesley quarterback Joe Callahan be the NJAC player of the year in 2015?
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com

The New Jersey Athletic Conference is getting a lot bigger and a lot stronger in football in 2015, as Wesley, Salisbury, Christopher Newport and Frostburg State join the league, while Morrisville State moves to the Empire 8.

The additions, announced Monday, will return the NJAC to 10 teams and give the league a lineup of teams that have combined for 41 playoff appearances in the 15 years of the automatic bid era.

As the NJAC has tried first to gain, then maintain that automatic bid, it has welcomed associate members from Connecticut (Western Connecticut State) and New York (Brockport, Buffalo, Cortland and Morrisville State). But Western Connecticut left for easier competition in New England, Brockport and Buffalo will be in the Empire 8 this year and earlier this offseason, Cortland announced it was leaving for the Empire 8 as well. With this move, Morrisville State will join them.

The core members of the conference are all New Jersey state schools: Kean, Montclair State, Rowan, TCNJ and William Paterson. They will be joined by the five football-sponsoring members of the Capital Athletic Conference to form this super-sized league. Southern Virginia becomes an NJAC member starting with the 2014 season, with the rest joining in 2015.

For Wesley, it will be the first opportunity to compete for an automatic bid in football in the program’s history. As an independent, the Wolverines have had to schedule 10 non-conference games every year and played last year in Texas, Alabama, New Jersey and North Carolina. Now Wesley will need just one non-conference opponent each season.

Call it the New-JAC

The NJAC's 2015 alignment will feature three schools who have been to the playoffs eight or more times in the 15 years of the automatic bid era, and five schools who have participated in the NCAA playoffs six or more times since 1999. Their 2013 results: 

School W-L Conf W-L Overall Playoff appearances
Wesley 0-0 IND 10-3 0.769 10
Rowan 6-1 NJAC 9-3 0.750 8
Christopher Newport 5-2 USAC 8-2 0.800 9
Southern Virginia * 0-0 IND 8-2 0.800 --
Salisbury 5-2 E8 7-4 0.636 6
TCNJ 4-3 NJAC 5-5 0.500 1
Montclair State 3-4 NJAC 4-6 0.400 6
William Paterson 1-6 NJAC 3-7 0.300 0
Kean 1-6 NJAC 2-8 0.200 1
Frostburg State 0-7 E8 1-9 0.100 0
Southern Virginia is a provisional member of Division III.

“We are extremely excited about the future of our football conference with the addition of these tremendous programs,” said NJAC commissioner Terry Small. “Our presidents and athletic administrators have been seeking stability in terms of our football membership, and we now believe that we have assembled one of the strongest football conferences in all of NCAA Division III. By adding these quality programs and partnering with these outstanding institutions, we believe we have aligned many of the top Division III football programs in the region while helping to ease the burden of scheduling that all of the institutions have experienced throughout the years.”

Now spanning from northern New Jersey to southern Virginia, the new conference is only slightly more compact – the longest trip is the 412 miles from William Paterson to Southern Virginia – but it will be a significant improvement for Salisbury and Frostburg, who were members of the Empire 8 in football. Christopher Newport has remained a member of the USA South in football despite bolting the conference in other sports. And the five NJAC members who sponsor football will at least have a chance on paper at an automatic bid.

Football is a big driver of enrollment numbers for the two private schools in this league, Wesley and Southern Virginia. The NJAC's 100-man roster limit will be raised to include a 25-man developmental squad (junior varsity) to try to mitigate the effects of moving into the league.

The move also takes a little of the strength out of the Empire 8, taking Salisbury. But it also makes that league more compact, as the Empire 8 in 2015 will consist solely of schools in the Empire State, barring future moves. The 2015 Empire 8 lineup is Alfred, Brockport State, Buffalo State, Cortland State, Hartwick, Ithaca, Morrisville State, St. John Fisher and Utica. The E8 could add Division III provisional member Alfred State to get to an even 10 schools.

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